ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 25 -- Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said today there should be a public discussion of decriminalizing drug use if current law enforcement and education efforts fail to halt drug-related violence.

Emphasizing that he opposes all forms of drug use, Curran added: "Maybe there will come a time when citizens will say, 'Let's get rid of the profit motive and get rid of the drug dealers.' Heretofore, this has been unthinkable, but maybe someday we'll think about the unthinkable."

Curran's statements, first made in an interview with editors of Chesapeake Publishing on Wednesday, were reminiscent of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's call in April 1988 for a national debate of drug decriminalization.

A spokesman for his Nov. 6 general election opponent, Republican Edward L. Blanton, was quick to criticize Curran. "Ed Blanton unequivocally opposes the legalization of drugs," Mark Rivers said. "The legalization of drugs would be similar to raising the white flag in the war. Apparently Joe Curran wants us to surrender."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has differed with Curran on other issues, was described by aides today as surprised about the attorney general's suggestions.

"I'm sorry that the attorney general didn't say that to me first," Schaefer said. "I remain strongly opposed to legalization of illicit drugs."

Curran, 59, a former lieutenant governor and state senator from Baltimore, declined during an interview today to use the word "decriminalization," but he indicated that such a move would be one way to halt murders, robberies and shootings that he said are directly related to drugs.

"Let's think about anything that will stop the violence," he said, "if there is an option, counseling, education, rehabilitation therapy and maybe, just maybe, taking the profit motive out. {That} would get rid of drug lords by making sure their commodity no longer is illegal and they are no longer in business."

Curran, completing his first term as attorney general, said he strongly supports Schaefer's anti-drug campaign, which this year centered on increasing penalties for users and taking away the professional licenses of Maryland residents convicted in drug crimes.

"I was trying to be honest and say that maybe there will be a time when we should think about this," said Curran, who said he neither smokes nor drinks. "If the public supports it, we could move. If the public rejects it, maybe we should stay on our {present} course.

"I'm on record against all forms of substance abuse, but I'm also cognizant of urban violence. I'm looking for ways to end this ceaseless violence. I don't advocate it, but I do advocate putting it on the table."