Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where Even the Simplest Answer Gets Complicated

Even the simplest answer to the enormous drug problem that plagues Baltimore is, of course, bound to get complicated. This should come as no surprise to those who have wrapped their heads around just how big a part of the regional economy the drug "industry" accounts for. If we take for gospel truth the vague estimate that there are 50,000 heroin addicts in the City, then the reach of the local drug economy starts to become frighteningly clear.

So let's fantasize a bit and say our society actually finds a way - like a cashless society - to seriously curtail drug activity . What are those who had previously worked in the drug trade going to do for a living? These are overwhelmingly not college graduates or even high school graduates we're talking about. Many have violent backgrounds stemming from the violent world they've participated in. Removing their sole source of income could cause all sorts of other problems if not managed properly; and might turn the streets of our city into robbery and kidnapping zones more closely resembling the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo or the slums of Mexico City.

This is where society needs to get smart and coordinate policy from different angles. Should we have the good fortune to find a way to phase down the drug trade in this city, educational and social services need to be in place to reform those exiting that world of criminality and easing their assimilation back into productive society. It will not be easy by any means. But if it is not done, then we could find ourselves with a whole new set of problems replacing those of yesterday.

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