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Baltimore Mayor Reiterates Legalization Call

September 29, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, taking his case for legalizing drug possession to Congress, said today that making illicit drugs available legally would help, not hurt, the United States.

Schmoke told a House committee that the United States has tried vigorously for 75 years to rid itself of the what he described as the reality that drug prohibition increases crime without doing away with addiction.

″Nevertheless, that reality remains as true today as ever,″ he told the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. ″We have spent nearly 75 years and untold billions of dollars trying to square the circle, and inevitably we have failed.″

Instead of a drug policy based primarily on law enforcement, Schmoke proposed ″a measured and carefully implemented program of drug decriminalizatio n,″ similar to the repeal of the 1920s’ prohibition on alcohol.

He conceded that there were risks in what he was suggesting.

″Providing legal access to currently illicit substances carries with it the chance, although by no means the certainty, that the number of people using and abusing drugs will increase.

″But addiction, for all of its attendant medical, social and moral problems, is but one evil associated with drugs. Moreover, the criminalization of narcotics, cocaine and marijuana has not solved the problem of their use.″

Opening the hearing, the committee chairman, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D- N.Y., who has opposed Schmoke’s proposal, said the United States now spends $140 billion a year on illicit drugs and absorbs another $100 billion a year in lost productivity and drug-related crime.

″I am not ready to spend more of the American people’s money on drugs and crime and property loss, which is what would happen under legalization,″ he said.

″I am concerned about the impact of drugs on the future of this country,″ Rangel said. ″But, unlike some of those who have grown weary of this crisis, I am in no way ready to give up and say that we have fought the fight and have lost the war on drugs.″

The chance of congressional approval of drug legalization is nil.

Mayors Ed Koch of New York City, Marion Barry of the District of Columbia, Dennis Callahan of Annapolis, Md., and Carrie Saxon Perry of Hartford, Conn., were among 32 other witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing.

Others on the agenda include John Lawn, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Arthur C. Eads, board chairman of the National District Attorneys Association, and Jerald Vaughn, executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Rangel said he called the hearing to seek answers to such questions as:

-What would the United States do about international treaties it has signed to stop the flow of drugs?

-Who is responsible if a doctor or pharmacist provides drugs which lead to an overdose?

-How could legalization be squared with the nation’s anti-drug education programs?

-What would happen to health insurance rates?

-What would be the impact on minority communities already ravaged by drug abuse?

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