Pubdate: Wed, 15 Dec 1999
Source: City Paper (MD)
Copyright: 1999 Scranton Times
Contact:  812 Park Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201
Fax: (410) 523-8437


"The End" (12/1) mentions that, in April 1988, Mayor Schmoke "argued that
drugs should be a matter of public-health rather than law-enforcement
policy." As a result, City Paper quotes a friend of Schmoke's saying, "He
got the crap beat out of him."

But he got the crap beat out of him only politically. Of course, sadly, he
didn't fight back. The continuation of drug prohibition is the legacy of
the Schmoke years. Crime could have been reduced by 75 percent or more if
drug prohibition had not kept the price of illegal drugs artificially high.
These inflated prices gave addicts the incentive to commit crimes to afford
their fixes, and drug dealers the incentive to push their product in the
inner city. No one favors drug prohibition more than drug dealers.

Ending drug prohibition could have saved taxpayers $35,000 per nonviolent
prisoner per year, and this money could have been used for education, drug
treatment, and repairing the inner city. Instead we imprison sick people,
and the new mayor pledges more of the same.

In Boston, in the mid-1600s, the Puritans cut off the ears of Quakers for
believing in the "wrong" religion. In the United States, in the late 1900s,
the martini drinkers lock up cocaine, heroin, and marijuana users for using
the "wrong" drugs. We have less excuse. Given the knowledge of the time,
the Puritans could have genuinely believed that the Quakers' beliefs were
causing their problems. By contrast, given our experience with alcohol
prohibition, we know that drug prohibition, not drugs, is causing our
problems. Yet we persist in our failed policy.

Let us hope that the new mayor's position on drug prohibition was just a
strategy to get him elected. Once in office, perhaps he will show more
courage than did Mayor Schmoke.

Henry Cohen
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