From Steve J. Gewirtz of Charles Village Court Watch:
While I was actively doing a court watch, the one thing that I consistently noticed was that most violent crime had an addiction to illegal drugs at its root. For example, when John Wagner murdered Stephen Pitcairn, Wagner and most of his apartment mates including Lavelva Merritt had spent the morning high on drugs and alcohol, and the robbery that led to the murder clearly was an effort to get money for drugs. Police Commissioner Batts, having worked previously in California where a lot of gangs started, has made the point that gangs are at the root of our increase in murders this year, and those gangs exist largely to run drug operations.
When the 18th amendment to the U.S. constitution instituted prohibition of alcohol in the roaring 20s, it provided for concurrent enforcement by the states and the federal government. All but one of the then 48 states adopted prohibition. The one that did not is our state -- Maryland. Thus, enforcement of prohibition in Maryland came only from the federal government, and the Baltimore Sun named Maryland "the free state." As we know, prohibition was a colossal failure that led to a lot of violence (think of Al Capone) and was repealed by the 21st amendment. We should have learned something from prohibition, namely that trying to ban something that a lot of people want is not possible and that resulting black markets are accompanied by fights over territory in which to sell the something. When prohibition was repealed, the violent crime subsided.
Today, our country jails more than 2 million people, many for violations of the prohibition of drugs. We incarcerate people at the highest per capita rate in the world. Yet people who want drugs still can get them. In addition, every study shows that the rate of use of illegal drugs is the same for whites as for blacks, but blacks are charged with and jailed for drug crimes far more than whites.
At the same time, far more people die from legal drugs, namely tobacco and alcohol, than from all illegal drugs combined.
For these reasons, it has long been my view that most recreational drugs should be decriminalized. Get rid of the black markets and we can get rid of much of the violence. The war on drugs has been a colossal failure. At the same time, I do believe in cracking down on violent criminals, especially multiple offenders, but if drugs were legal under appropriate safeguards, there would be a lot less violent crime. We would save much of the money now spent on prisons. We also would be able to make drug treatment truly available on demand for anyone who needs it. Many addicts would need to try more than one program to find one that works for them.
A good place to start is to end the prohibition of marijuana. Two states so far, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the possession of small amounts, and both states plan to raise money by taxing the sale of marijuana. There are problems to work through, especially since marijuana is still illegal under federal law. For example, I understand that banks in Colorado will not accept deposits from marijuana dealers, and I suspect that this is because under federal law, knowingly accepting a deposit from a marijuana dealer constitutes the federal crime of money laundering. Also, we need to plan for vigorous enforcement of laws against driving under the influence of marijuana -- think of the horrendous accident some years ago in Chase, Maryland because a train operator who was high on pot failed to begin to stop for a signal until it was too late. The first time I tried marijuana, I bicycled afterwards from one dorm to another, and I found myself coming up suddenly on stop signs. Therefore, when the accident in Chase occurred, I knew exactly how it had come about.
Fortunately, marijuana is generally not an addictive drug. Addiction can be hard to break. For years, I consumed huge amounts of caffeine, and it took numerous tries to break my addiction. But I never had to worry about getting busted for buying a fix, and my addiction did not interfere with a career.
While we think about reducing crime, let me mention another issue. I have tutored a few students at the Waverly Library (before it was closed for renovation). I can recall tutoring a fifth and a sixth grader in math and noticing that they would add two one digit numbers by counting on their fingers. As far as I can tell, nothing is done for such students by the school system, and the ones I encountered at least were going for tutoring. My guess is that when students get too far behind and see no future for themselves, that becomes the signal to join a gang and to get involved with drugs. We need to break this cycle.
In the gubernatorial race, one candidate so far has come out for legalization of marijuana, namely Delegate Heather Mizeur. She would create a legal market for marijuana, would tax it, and would use the money to fund prekindergarten education. This would be an excellent first step in reducing crime centered around the drug trade and in giving our children a jump on getting the education they need to feel that they have a future. Kids from middle and upper class homes reach kindergarten already knowing the letters of the alphabet, but too many kids from poverty begin learning the letters in kindergarten. She has also spoken of the need to end the system that sends too many kids into the court system rather than into college and careers. I expect that we will see more details on what she plans to do, and I hope that other candidates will also discuss the issue.
As you may guess from what I have written above, I am supporting Heather Mazeur and her running mate Delman Coates for governor and lieutenant governor. Heather will be speaking at a meeting at 7:30 p.m. next Monday, December 16 of the Old Goucher Community Association at Lovely Lane Methodist Church at 2200 St. Paul St. in Baltimore. I hope that people will attend and will hear a really dynamic and inspirational speaker. One of the things I most like about her and her running mate is that I expect them to do more than any recent governor to inspire all of us to do more to make our communities and our city and state a much better place. They believe in government, as do I, but government cannot do everything. We all need to contribute our time.
To learn more about Heather, go to her web site: http://www.heathermizeur.com/ If you are interested in meeting two members of the cast of The Wire, she has a fundraiser next Tuesday, December 17, and you can click on EVENTS to get details.