Prince George's County Police Chief John E. McHale Jr. supported the legalization of marijuana yesterday, saying the efforts to control the drug have proved futile and making it legal would reduce street crime.
McHale, who served in the FBI for 27 years before being appointed police chief in the suburban Maryland county two months ago, said he believes alcohol is a much more serious factor in crime than the use of marijuana.
While endorsing law enforcement efforts to thwart the sale and use of more debilitating drugs, McHale said of marijuana contrl: "It's another Vietnam. It's war you can't win, and who wants to get in a war you can't win?"
According to officials at the 12,000-member International Association of Chiefs of Police, McHale is the first police chief in the country to endorse the legalization of marijuana.
The police chiefs association said it was "firmly opposed" to legalization of marijuana and also against the lesser step of decriminilizing the use of the drug.
"The reason you have so much street crime," said McHale, is that "to go out and buy this stuff costs you an arm and a leg. If you legalized it, and you could buy a pack of marijuanas for what you could but a pack of Lucky Strikes, maybe you wouldn't have so much street crime."
McHale said in an interview yesterday he thought the country had "learned a lesson from the '20s: We tried to outlaw booze and it didn't work. I think sooner or later this country is probably going to admit it can't outlaw marijuana, either."
The 54-year-old chief said he had never tried marijuana and that, although he did not drink, he thought "booze is probably worse than marijuana, but drinkers don't want to hear that."
McHale's remarks may prove controversial in Prince George's County, where there were about 1,600 drug-related arrests last year, according to Maryland state police. Only last December, the county council passed a controversial measure banning the sale, use, advertisement, or possession of drug paraphernalia.
The chief said he considered alcohol more of a problem than marijuana because of its wider use.
"You look at the effects on the human body of alcohol, they've got to be as bad as any narcotic" he said. "Without being a real sociologist, alcohol is probably responsible for half to two-thirds of the divorces in this country, the broken families which in turn lead to increasing crime rates."
He added: "You've got to look at the evils of alcohol. In this country in a given year, between 25,000 and 30,000 people are killed by drunken drivers."
McHale said, however, that while he favors the legal use of marijuana, he feels there have to be better ways of prosecuting drug pushers, and the users of PCP, cocaine, and other serious drugs. He cited the department's January 25 drug raid at the Capital Centre.
"We took 75 police officers in there, and all we were after was drug pushers, not kids smoking marijuana," the chief said. "Well, here you've got 18,000 screaming teen-agers in that building, and we arrested 23 that night. One of them had $2,200 in his wallet. Another had enough LSD on him to take care of 51 customers.
"We took those people out of the Capital Centre, but how many hundreds did we not take out?" he added. "We stopped when we had all we could handle. What [we] could have probably done was build a fence around them and say everybody in this building's under arrest . . . It's a gigantic problem. The question is how much can you do with your resources?"
A survey of local police jurisdictions yesterday showed that no other chiefs of police had changed their position on marijuana legalization.
A spokesman for Fairfax County police chief Richard A. King said: "Col. King consistently opposed and continues to oppose the decriminalization of marijuana, as not in any way being in the public safety and interest."
McHale, who said he knew that his statements would be unpopular acknowledged that most officers have taken a wait-said-see attitude towards him. But he has insisted the department mush change with the times.
McHale took charge immediately upon his appointment, restructured the department's high command, and promised to hire more minorities and women to rectify what he called the mostly white police force's "unacceptable" racial makeup.
"People don't expect a police chief to be progressive," McHale said.