Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday repeated his call for drug policies that focus on treatment of addiction as a health issue instead of a law-enforcement problem.
"Even people who don't agree with me that drugs are primarily a public health problem generally support my basic premise that our current strategy has failed," Mr. Schmoke told a House subcommittee in Annapolis,
Baltimore's mayor opened national debate on the nation's drug policies in 1988 when he suggested that illegal narcotics should be decriminalized to take the profit out of the drug trade.
Testifying yesterday before the House Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Mr. Schmoke called for a system that would allow drugs to be distributed to users for free by health-care professionals, the way methadone is given to drug addicts at rehabilitation centers.
"The goal is to ultimately get the person off the substance -- whether that's six months or six years -- and to make sure they don't do harm to others," Mr. Schmoke said. "What have we achieved? We have achieved safety because he is no longer a criminal predator."
He compared current drug enforcement efforts with futile attempts to restrict the illegal sale of alcohol during Prohibition.
"What happened in 1931 is not too different from what has happened in 1991," he said.
Mr. Schmoke said the failure of current policies has contributed to the spread of AIDS through drug use and caused too many young black men to be caught up in the criminal justice system.
The mayor sat beside Rob H. Hessing, police commissioner of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who said his city seeks to contain its drug problem. Mr. Hessing said his city prosecutes drug traffickers but seeks treatment for drug users.
Mr. Hessing said an emphasis on containing the problem has been successful because there has been no increase in drug use, the number of juveniles using drugs has declined and the average age of drug users is rising.
Herbert J. Hoelter, executive director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, said changes in drug enforcement would prevent would-be street dealers, especially young blacks, from becoming criminals. "We're not getting the Colombians; we're not getting the big dealers," Mr. Hoelter said. "We're getting the nickel-and-dime dealers."
His center reported last month that 56 percent of black men between the ages of 18 and 35 in Baltimore were under the supervision of the criminal justice system. He said young blacks are disproportionately prosecuted because "they're easy prey" for police when dealing drugs openly on the street.
Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, said he believed that law-enforcement authorities want to get big-time drug dealers. He said the "war on drugs" hasn't led to safer streets.