Why, people are beginning to ask, isn't drug policy reform being held up to similar scrutiny? Why aren't its policies being re-examined in the light of more rational and innovative thinking?
A number of alternative strategies to the current system - aimed at prevention and treatment - offer further impetus to engage in this national dialogue.
For example, pilot needle-exchange programs in cities like Baltimore and New Haven have helped reduce the spread of AIDS. Baltimore has also turned a number of its mail boxes into clearly marked "drops" for dirty needles - and already we've seen that more than 10 percent of the discarded needles test positive for HIV.
In addition, Baltimore is experimenting with acupuncture at a number of its drug treatment centers, to see if that approach could be an effective alternative in treating drug addicts.
Increased public support for such alternatives indicates again that Americans are ready to sit down and rethink drug policy in a common-sense fashion. The voters of California and Arizona deserve our thanks and our respect for sending that message in November. But they are not alone.
Many independent thinkers, ranging from former Secretary of State George P. Shultz to conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr., have taken a serious look at our drug policy and called for dramatically different approaches. Increasingly, ordinary citizens are doing the same.
Beginning with our founding fathers, we have known that the free flow of ideas and the open debate of policies form the foundation of our democracy and are the secret of most of its successes.
Those of us who are committed to finding new ways of reducing the terrible toll drugs exact from our communities look forward to a serious, honest and respectful discussion in the months ahead. There are few more urgent issues facing the American people - and few more in need of a rational debate - than America's drug policy.
And thanks to the voters in California and Arizona, there's mounting evidence that people are ready - and in fact eager - for the debate to begin.
Kurt L. Schmoke is Baltimore's mayor and a leading critic of the so-called war on drugs.
Pub Date: 12/08/96