The Drug Law That Works Best

March 01, 1995

Republican state Senator Larry E. Haines has again introduced a bundle of tough anti-drug bills with the expectation that, if enacted into law, they will drive down Maryland's illegal drug use. The bills would make smuggling 10 pounds of marijuana a felony and allow the death penalty for murder committed as part of a narcotics transaction.

While tough drug laws may punish those caught smuggling or selling drugs, the more effective strategy to reduce drug crime is to curtail the demand. In the long run, parent forums about drugs, such as one held last month at North Carroll High School, may be more effective in curbing drug use than adding statutes to the criminal code. With ever fewer customers, the drug business can't thrive.

A popular misconception is that drug use is confined to urban ghettos. Suburbanites are among the largest consumers of inner-city drugs. On Fridays in some Baltimore neighborhoods, a parade of well-dressed people drive through picking up drugs for the weekend much the way their neighbors go to the liquor store.

It is not just adults who keep the drug market flourishing. A two-year-old study indicates that drinking and drug use among Carroll's teens is greater than the state average. In a survey, 46 percent of Carroll's high school students said they had ridden in a car with an intoxicated driver.

Too many parents feel they don't have the skills to confront their children about drug use. When Liberty High School held a parents' forum three years ago, hundreds of interested parents participated. Drug use at Liberty was not eliminated, but a lot more parents felt empowered to ask their children tough questions about drugs and alcohol availability.

With the barrage of anti-drug and anti-drinking public service announcements and education programs, most teen-agers are aware of the dangers of these substances. They also know that severe penalties are on the books if they are caught.

However, parents remain the best people to police their children's behavior. If they can effectively monitor their children and curtail the demand for drugs, that will have a lot more impact than stiffening drug penalties. The law that seems most effective in combating drug abuse is the one of supply and demand.

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