From Harford Council Member Mike Perrone, Jr.:
HarfordNEXT, Our Quality of Life, and the Drug Trade
On June 21, the County Council passed our HarfordNEXT Master Plan, and I want to share some comments I made at the end of the meeting that go straight to the very heart of the quality of life in so many of our communities.
I am sure the number of government planning documents throughout this country that reference this issue at all are few and far between, but the issue is literally a matter of life and death for some people, and so the issue needs to be raised. The issue to which I am referring is the drug trade.
Before I begin, I don’t think there is a single reasonable person out there who wouldn’t acknowledge that drugs are a problem. But to conceive of the “drug problem” as a single monolithic dynamic is to misunderstand the problem completely. The “drug problem” is in reality two problems, which do damage in very different ways. These two problems are drug use and the drug trade.
Most everyone seems keen on the problems associated with drug use. Our awareness of the gravity of the heroin epidemic speaks to this. As countless people whose lives have been harmed by heroin use can attest to, drug use is a problem that can affect anyone. Nobody is immune.
There are no safe places – either in a physical or an emotional sense – where we can go to take shelter from this scourge. I think this is why our awareness level of the problem of drug use is so high.
But what about the drug trade? How aware are we of the nature and severity of the problems caused by this scourge? Unlike drug use, it’s pretty easy to escape and ignore the problems caused by the drug trade. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where drugs aren’t being dealt, you can pretty much avoid and ignore the entire problem.
But what if you aren’t that fortunate? I could point out to you a number of dwelling units in District A where drugs are or have been dealt out of. And of course, these dwellings are occupied by criminals, because our federal drug policy has ensured that drugs will be sold by criminals. (Contrast that with alcohol, which is sold by peaceful, law-abiding citizens who operate legitimate businesses.) What if it was you who lives next door to one of these dwelling units? What if it was you who feels like a prisoner in your own home and is afraid to go outside after dark? What if it was you who lives in a state of perpetual fear for the lives and future of your children, because you know that as strong and spiritually guided as your parenting efforts may be, the toxic influence of gangsters in the neighborhood is just too much to overcome?
This is the reality millions of innocent people – our brothers and sisters – face in this country because of our completely misguided federal drug policy. What is so mind boggling about this entire issue is that – a little over 100 years ago we tried prohibition the first time, and it didn’t work! It may have taken us 13 years to realize it didn’t work, but at least we figured it out. Why have we not figured it out this time around??? We are more than 50 years into this second round of prohibition, and yet we continue to fight this symbolic battle on the premise that what…making drugs illegal somehow stems their use? Makes them harder to obtain? Whether we like it or not, there are certain elements of human nature that we can’t merely legislate away.
I’m sure there are some people out there who might not have chosen to experiment with drugs in today’s environment who otherwise may have in an environment where drug use is legal. But I have to believe that this number of people is incredibly small because…how could it not be? If you know anyone with an addictive personality or if you have ever struggled with addiction yourself, then you understand the power of that need to self-medicate. And you know that when the need is that strong, mere nuances like “legal” and “illegal” don’t mean anything.
As long as we continue to force the drug trade into the hands of criminals who operate out of residential neighborhoods, nothing in HarfordNEXT or any other master plan is going to be able to lift our blighted communities out of poverty. We as a country (or our own State if we saw fit to assert our rights under the Tenth Amendment) could choose to have drugs sold legally by law -abiding citizens in a regulated environment where public and mental health providers have real tools at their disposal to fight these epidemics because – if for no other reason, we now have billions of dollars that we are no longer wasting on futile enforcement efforts. This money could instead be spent on treatment, or given back to the taxpayers who earned it in the first place. THIS COULD BE OUR REALITY. But instead, we have locked millions of our brothers and sisters in generational cycles of poverty and violence by turning our backs and pretending that we don’t understand why it is that destitute communities remain destitute. We respond to events like the riots in Baltimore City from last year as if there is some sinister element at work in human nature which is somehow growing more sinister. That isn’t the case at all. When we show someone the American dream but make it clear to them that they may never partake in the dream because our policies have made their neighborhoods a living hell, we have failed them.
When we send our police, fire, and EMS providers into environments where the risk of harm they face goes beyond situational risk to the culture of violence that the drug trade propagates, we have failed our first responders too.
Our government is losing the war on drugs.
Our communities are losing the war on drugs.
Our first responders are losing the war on drugs.
Our health and human service providers are losing the war on drugs.
Taxpayers are losing the war on drugs.
EVERYONE is losing the war on drugs.
To me, our course of action seems pretty clear. I’ve been having this conversation with people for a long time, and I know how the usual rebuttals to this argument go. So what I would say to anyone who is inclined to write this argument off as nonsense or craziness is that before you do, go rent a townhouse in Edgewater Village… or West Baltimore. Go live in the battlegrounds of the war that you are so intent on waging. And don’t just go and live there yourself, take your family. Go and try to raise your children and grandchildren in a community where you have to contemplate the possibility of stray bullets every time you and your loved ones leave the house.
Then see if you don’t change your mind.