Schmoke sees some small steps toward drug decriminalization


WASHINGTON -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has told proponents of drug decriminalization that there has been a "glimpse of progress" in the movement to steer the nation's anti-drug policies away from arrests and toward treatment and prevention of drug abuse.

"I'm not seeing a tremendous leap forward," Schmoke tolmembers of the Drug Policy Foundation yesterday, adding that there is a "widespread realization" that the current drug war approach is not working and that alternatives need to be debated.

Schmoke joined a group of elected public officials whaddressed the foundation, which was formed in 1987 to seek peaceful ways to curb drug addiction and trafficking. Foundation officials credit the mayor with making "the big splash" in April 1988 by urging the U.S. Conference of Mayors to join in a national debate on decriminalizing drugs.

Schmoke, former Secretary of State George Shultz and scattering of other prominent people support decriminalization. As a result, foundation officials predict that next year will bring less talk and more political action on drug decriminalization.

Schmoke wants drug addiction treated as a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue. The mayor said he doubted that federal drug czar William Bennett "is willing to turn over the war on drugs to the U.S. surgeon general," but sensed "a quietly shifting strategy."

Schmoke praised Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. for recently saying it "would be prudent to at least open up a debate on decriminalizing drugs as a last alternative rather than giving up."

Curran later told The Evening Sun that he had thought hiremarks, which were made during an interview with the Easton Star-Democrat, were off the record. Further, Curran's campaign issued a statement that said: "I totally oppose [drug] use and therefore I oppose decriminalizing drugs."

The privately financed foundation remains largely a collection oacademics, social activists, reform-minded physicians and Libertarians who resist government regulation. The foundation gave Schmoke a $100,000 "drugpeace" award last year. Schmoke, who sits on the foundation's advisory board, donated the prize to the Fund for Educational Excellence in Baltimore.

As an example of what is wrong with the government's drug war, Arnold S. Trebach, president of the foundation and a professor at American University, cited the recent sentencing of a Washington, D.C., high school senior to 10 years in prison.

The student, Keith Jackson, 19, was lured by Drug Enforcement Administration agents to Lafayette Park across from the White House to allegedly sell crack in December 1989.

The Washington Post later reported President Bush had asked for an arrest near the White House so the confiscated drugs could be used as a prop in a nationally televised speech on the drug war.

Jackson wasn't sentenced for the Lafayette Park incident, buwas found guilty of selling cocaine on three other earlier occasions. Noting it was a first offense, U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin said the sentence was too harsh for the remorseful Jackson, but it was required under federal minimum sentencing guidelines.

"He sold crack three times, something he [Jackson] shouldn'have done," Trebach told the foundation audience. As for the sentence, Trebach said, "As an American, I am embarrassed. Such events give us the energy to move forward. Care and compassion are more important than hate and demogoguery and violence."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad