The Magazine


Jul 27, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 44 • By JAMES F.X. O'GARA and JOHN P. WALTERS
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Yet the current trend has been just the reverse -- to decriminalize drug use and substitute "harm reduction" for an intolerance of drug trafficking and use. Accept drug use as normal and unavoidable, Americans have been told. The dramatic reductions of the Reagan and Bush years have been attacked as unsustainable largely because they were not sustained. In fairness, one thing the new ads may do is counter some of the drift toward the normalization of drug use (which is why the legalizers have been loudly attacking the campaign).

To see what's in store if current trends are left unchecked, one need look no farther than Baltimore. Mayor Kurt Schmoke has taken the path of normalization -- reducing drug enforcement, distributing clean needles to addicts, and emphasizing treatment and "harm reduction." For all this, the legalization movement has celebrated Schmoke as a national hero. Baltimore has not only gotten its full measure of federal drug-control funds, it has even received special, additional federal money, as well as $ 25 million for "harm reduction" efforts from the drug-legalizing philanthropist George Soros.

Yet President Clinton's own drug-policy office recently published a stark description of the appalling conditions in Baltimore: Heroin is readily available, with city dealers moving into suburbs and high schools; cocaine is plentiful in both crack and powder forms; and marijuana, a law-enforcement official reports, "is not being seen as a drug." In fact, since Schmoke took office in 1987, Baltimore has become the most addiction-ridden metropolitan area in the country per capita. Washington, D.C., had 89 emergency-room cases related to cocaine per 100,000 in population in 1996 -- Baltimore had 362. Washington had 40 such cases related to heroin per 100,000 population in 1996 -- Baltimore had 346. Welcome to the brave new world.

Parents and responsible adults need to teach young people that drug use is wrong and harmful and that for this reason those who sell and use drugs will be punished. Television ads may be of some help, but what is vital is that national leaders at the same time carry out their responsibilities: in foreign policy, holding source and transit countries accountable for stopping the flow; in defense policy, making interdiction a priority; and in law enforcement, insisting that major trafficking organizations are systematically targeted and dismantled by federal authorities and that open-air drug markets are closed by local authorities. Treatment that works (including faith-based treatment programs) should be funded.

Americans will take care of what happens around the kitchen table if our leaders will only pay more attention to what happens in the streets. Think about that the next time you see Kevin Scott on television.