Legalizing Drugs: The Bunny Colvin Solution to Violence in Baltimore – Part 4

This is the fourth and final part of a series. Go to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

“Wars end.”

Those are the words of Carver in Season 1 of The Wire, explaining why it’s wrong to call the war on drugs – now going on for nearly half a century – a war at all. But, in fact, there are signs that the war being fought on America’s city streets could be nearing an end.

A 2014 Pew Research poll found that two-thirds of Americans support treatment rather than jail time for users of cocaine and heroin. Canada has legalized recreational cannabis use, and the U.S. is trending in that direction.

There’s still backlash any time someone publicly speaks about decriminalization of hard drugs. But overall it seems to be a more sympathetic environment than the one Mayor Kurt Schmoke faced in 1988.

We saw evidence of that with the introduction of a safe injection site bill in the Maryland General Assembly this year.

Continue reading

Legalizing Drugs: The Bunny Colvin Solution to Violence in Baltimore – Part 2

This is the second part of a series. Go to Part 1.

“… the overwhelming bulk of violence is due to gangs fighting for Drug territory. When was the last time you heard about beer and liquor distributors killing each other over territory? Prohibition!”

– Jan Houbolt in the Baltimore City Voters Facebook group

According to The Baltimore Sun, police identified a motive in only 24 of the city’s 309 homicides in 2018. But out of those, half were tied to either drugs or gangs (11 to the former, one to the latter).

Some other 2018 homicide stats that pop out: 219 of the 309 victims (71 percent) had prior drug arrests, and 149 (48 percent) had previously been arrested for violent crimes. Police said about a quarter of murder suspects were members of a drug crew or gang.

Also, 175 victims had been shot in the head. That’s 57 percent, up from 45 percent and 47 percent in the two previous years.

That points to a professionalism in Baltimore’s violence that is also evident in the stubbornly high shooting fatality rate. About one in three reported shootings in Baltimore result in death. That’s one of the highest rates in the country, and it was the subject of a 2015 investigation by The Sun.

City officials certainly seem to think that drug crews are primarily responsible for the murder rate. “You’ve heard about the war on drugs,” Mayor Pugh said in October 2018. “There is a drug war. People are protecting their territories with guns.”

I’m not sure I would have gone with that choice of words if I were the mayor. Because, as the quote at the top of this post shows, some people argue that the war on drugs waged by law enforcement has actually made drug-related violence worse, not better.

And the obvious evidence to point to for that is Prohibition.

Continue reading

Legalizing Drugs: The Bunny Colvin Solution to Violence in Baltimore – Part 1

Baltimore made national headlines in late January when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would no longer prosecute people for possession of cannabis, regardless of quantity or criminal history.

“When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” said Mosby, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”

The decision came a month after a report by Baltimore Fishbowl stating that, despite Maryland’s decriminalization law that went into effect in late 2014, cannabis-related arrests in Baltimore were still disproportionately affecting African-Americans. Out of 1,514 such arrests between 2015 and 2017, 1,450 of the arrestees were black. That’s in spite of the fact that white people use drugs at similar rates to other groups.

Still, Mosby has gotten plenty of pushback – notably from Maryland Senate President Mike Miller. “Miss Mosby is wrong,” Miller said. “There are drug dealers in the city who need to be prosecuted and laws need to be unified across the state.”

Of course, Mosby (who by the way is a married woman) made it clear that she would still prosecute people if there were signs that they were dealing cannabis, such as possession of baggies and scales. She just won’t prosecute simple possession.

More recently, State Senator Brian Feldman and Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk have introduced legislation (again) in Annapolis to create safe injection sites, where people with addictions could use opioids under supervision to prevent overdoses. The last time such a bill was introduced, the Senate Finance Committee initially passed it but then changed its mind.

But let’s back up a bit. Remember Season 3 of The Wire? When Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin effectively legalizes drugs in designated “free zones” (Hamsterdam) in the Western District? The result, in spite of some serious challenges along the way, is a more orderly, more peaceful district. Dealers don’t fight over territory as much, and police can spend their time doing police work rather than wasting time breaking up open-air drug markets that just pop up somewhere else the next day.

In January 2019, Baltimore had 26 homicides. That’s identical to the figure from 2018, when we had 309 homicides for the year. After a 24-hour period in late February in which 14 people were shot and five were killed, we are very close to last year’s pace. That means, without significant changes, there’s a good chance that we are on our way to a fifth straight year of 300-plus murders.

Is it possible that the solution to – or, I should say, a way to alleviate – Baltimore’s homicide problem is not to just decriminalize cannabis possession, or allow people to use opioids safely, but to legalize drugs Bunny Colvin-style?

Continue reading