Two-thirds of District residents are in favor of treating drug addicts as people in need of medical care, and only 30 percent are in favor of the authorities aggressively arresting and prosecuting drug users, a new city poll indicates.
Some responses to a February poll of 601 residents seemed to contradict views often expressed at community meetings in neighborhoods where drug use and sales have prompted anger and fear among residents.
The poll, financed by the federal government, was conducted by the District's Office of Criminal Justice Plans and Analysis in conjunction with similar polls in five states, as part of a national effort to monitor and evaluate drug control strategies.
In the poll, conducted by telephone, 66 percent of the residents said they think addicts should be given medical treatment while 30 percent are in favor of arresting and prosecuting them.
When it comes to spending money for anti-drug programs, 10 percent called for new jails, while 38 percent said they want more drug treatment centers and 46 percent chose job-training centers.
Poll author Stephen Rickman said he thinks the poll reflects District residents' years of experience with police crackdowns on the drug trade.
"Perhaps we are further along in the drug crisis cycle than other cities," he said. "People here have tried incarceration as a solution and now are open to looking at other approaches."
Although half of those polled said they felt illegal drug activity was at a crisis level in their neighborhoods, 65 percent said they were willing to have a drug treatment center built in their community.
But a similar number said they did not want a jail on their block.
Rickman said he thought the poll reflected how most residents really feel about the issue of where to put a drug treatment center.
"At community meetings, it is the vocal minority who speak up," he said. "They are always against treatment centers. What the poll shows is most people just don't care, it is not important to them."
Of the city's eight wards, those who most favored a drug treatment center live in Ward 2 -- which includes Georgetown, downtown and near Southwest -- and in Ward 8, in far Southeast.
Sections of both wards have had serious problems with drug markets and related violence.
The poll showed that 70 percent disapproved of legalization of any illicit drugs.
Residents were just as skeptical in a poll two years ago, Rickman said.
On the idea of an additional tax to fight drug abuse, 39 percent said they would volunteer to pay $50 more a year.
When asked to rank seven issues of general concern to the whole country, District residents ranked crime, drug abuse and problems related to the economy as less important than damage to the enviroment, taking care of the needy, public education and alcohol abuse.
Mayor Marion Barry said the poll is an endorsement of his administration's policy of vigorous enforcement of the laws against drug trafficking and medical treatment for those addicted to drugs.
"In fact, when we designed a new prison facility to be built in the city, we structured it primarily to address drug addiction as a health problem," he said in a prepared statement.