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Judge Gray Musters Support for Reform of Drug Policy : Campaign: The jurist is backed by prominent developer and public officials who say current laws are not working.

December 21, 1993|KEVIN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Renewing his call for drug policy reform, Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray on Monday picked up the endorsements of local developer Kathryn Thompson and a number of other officials who support his call for a national commission to study drug laws.

"Without change, the situation is not going to get better," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Greg Morgon said at a news conference here. "The important thing is that we take a look at our entire policy. I don't know what the answer is, but we do know that what's being done is not working."

Morgon said he would be willing to consider legalization of drugs as a possible option to current policy, adding that he was not representing the views of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"This is a very hot-potato political issue among law enforcement," Morgon said. "This (reform) should be looked at as part of a national forum."

The gathering at the Hall of Administration, part of Gray's continuing effort to change the country's approach to punishing drug offenders, also brought supportive declarations from visiting Detroit Councilwoman Maryann Mahaffey, the Rev. Leonard B. Jackson of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), former Anaheim Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood and others.

"Drug use has caused the break-up of families and an increase of violence," said Mahaffey, who was visiting Orange County this week. "It's time we examined how well we've been doing in this effort. I submit to you, we are not doing very well."

By their presence, the officials said they were not necessarily supporting legalization of drugs, but rather the creation of a national commission to study alternative treatment of drug users.

"This is a courageous first step to solve a terrible, terrible problem in our country," Thompson said. "Let's bring back the Ozzie-and-Harriet world that we knew in the 1950s."

In recent weeks, Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley and Bergeson endorsed Gray's resolution calling for a presidential panel, to be empowered by Congress, that would recommend changes in the nation's anti-drug laws.

Gray said he was also encouraged by the recent statements of U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who stunned the White House by suggesting that legalizing drugs could "markedly reduce our crime rate."

Since that time, Elders' son has been named in an arrest warrant in Little Rock, Ark., in connection with a cocaine possession charge. Mahaffey said the incident dramatically points to a need for further study of the country's drug laws.

"Drug use is not restricted to any one section of the country or society," she said. "It's in the suburbs, the wealthiest county in Michigan, as well as the wealthiest county in the nation. It's imperative that we make this known."

Bergeson, although adamantly opposed to legalization of drugs, said a study of the problem was necessary, "if we are to make a difference."

"Drug use is ravaging our families," the senator said. "It's tearing us apart."

Gray said his National Coalition for Drug Policy Change will continue its mission until a study commission is formed.

"What's being done is not working," Gray said. "There must be other options."

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