Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore defeated Baltimore City Council President May Pat Clarke in what was thought to be a hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary race. With 94 percent of the vote counted, Schmoke held a 58-40 percent lead. The race appeared to be much closer, with last- minute polls giving Schmoke a tenuous 4-point lead. In this heavily Democratic city, a victory in the primary virtually assures a general election victory on November 7.
Mayor Schmoke has been an outspoken advocate of decriminalization since 1988, when he stirred a controversy with remarks made at the US Conference of Mayors. Recently he was featured on the ABC News Special "War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions." Schmoke is a member of the Board of Directors of the Drug Policy Foundation. (Clarke had called for Schmoke to resign from the DPF board, saying that as mayor she would enact a "zero-tolerance" policy in Baltimore, and that her first act as mayor would be to sign the Atlanta Resolution, the featured document of the Atlanta anti-legalization conference.)
Schmoke's strong victory in the primary may take some of the wind out of a press conference being held this Wednesday morning (9/13) by William Bennett, former Bush Drug Czar, and Joseph Califano, President of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). Bennett and Califano will call on the President and Congress to "take the politics out of the war on drugs." CASA will release its first White Paper, entitled "Legalization: Panacea or Pandora's Box," to "put the nail in the coffin of the despairing proposal to legalize drugs," as Califano put it. (Of course, legalization is neither a panacea nor a Pandora's box -- only ideologically-driven prohibitionists cast it in this light.) Schmoke's victory demonstrates that an elected official can question drug prohibition and still be reelected -- in this case a second reelection.
The CASA release follows the release of the 1994 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which purportedly finds that marijuana use among 12-17 year olds nearly doubled between 1992 and 1994. The survey is fundamentally flawed, because it relies on teenagers' willingness to admit on the telephone to using drugs. (Hi, I'm from the government. Have you committed any felonies recently?) Research has shown that drug use is underreported on these surveys, and that the level of underreporting increases or decreases as public intolerance toward drug use waxes or wanes. So the survey really only tells us that twice as many teenagers are willing to admit to using marijuana -- the real statistics are much more difficult to gauge, but evidence suggests the difference in usage rates is slimmer than shown by the survey.
If you would like to congratulate Mayor Schmoke on his election victory, you can send a letter to:
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke
Office of the Mayor
250 City Hall
Baltimore, MD 21202
(and mention you got the suggestion from the Drug Reform Coordination Network).
PRESS RELEASE from the Drug Policy Foundation
DPF Denounces Bennett and Califano Proposal To Continue Failed War on Drugs
WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 13 -- The Drug Policy Foundation criticized today's press conference featuring former Bush Drug Czar William Bennett and former HEW Secretary Joseph Califano Jr. for attempting to suppress the drug policy debate. The press conference was set up, in part, to dissuade Congress and the Clinton administration from considering the option of legalizing drugs, even though neither branch is looking at such a policy.
DPF Executive Director David C. Condliffe said, "As far as I can tell, these two men are propping up a straw man -- drug legalization -- and then mugging him. The truth is that the U.S. government is not now exploring drug legalization, much less any of the alternative policies that fall between legalization and prohibition."
Condliffe continued, "Bennett and Califano want to take the politics out of drug policy. If they were serious, they would urge President Clinton and the Congress to support the National Commission on Crime Control and Prevention that was authorized in last year's crime act. An objective, blue-ribbon commission should weigh all the evidence on drug controls without suppressing those issues that Bennett and Califano don't want discussed."
"Bennett and Califano are staking out the extreme position," Condliffe said, "The only question that remains is whether either Bennett or Califano will ever have the wisdom to emulate Robert McNamara's recent about-face on the Vietnam War by admitting the flaws in their own thinking."
DPF President Arnold S. Trebach stated, "This joint press conference by icons of the Right and the Left symbolizes perfectly how little difference there is between Republican and Democratic strategies to deal with the drug problem. Both parties agree on 90 percent of drug policy as it now stands. Bennett and Califano are noisily rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
"Meanwhile," Trebach noted, "Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke has demonstrated that it is possible to support serious discussions about drug policy reform and get reelected." Schmoke, who called for a national debate on drug policy in 1988, yesterday won his third Democratic primary race, which assures his victory in the November general election in this heavily Democratic city.
Responding to the claims by Bennett's and Califano's press release that the government needs to protect children from drugs, Trebach stated: "The idea that our children are in danger because of drugs is not borne out by the government health statistics. The fact is that our children are placed in more jeopardy by the violence of drug prohibition than by drug use."
Trebach added, "It is ironic that the Clinton administration wants to address the epidemic of violence in this country while refusing to look at the violence generated by drug prohibition. Clearly, kids face more violence on today's streets than they did before the drug war was rejuvenated."
The Drug Policy Foundation is a nonprofit, independent think tank that supports an open, public debate on drug policy reform. To contact David Condliffe or Arnold Trebach, call the Foundation Media Affairs Office at (202) 537-5005.
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