LEWISBURG — In a public safety forum held Thursday evening at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart kept circling back to a topic much in the news — the country’s substance abuse epidemic.
“We have to decide who we are as a nation,” Stuart told an audience of around 20 people. “I think the way we deal with this crisis will determine who we are.”
Referring frequently to “Detroit drug dealers,” Stuart spoke about the effectiveness of his office in prosecuting those responsible for drug trafficking in southern West Virginia. Locking up out-of-state drug dealers is a primary focus for Stuart and the 33 assistant U.S. attorneys working under him in West Virginia’s Southern District.
“We’re working around the clock,” Stuart said, boasting that he and his team “have the toughest record” in the country in drug prosecutions.
“We’ve got communities in crisis, and they need a lot of help,” he noted. “We should be angry about this; I am a lot angry. We’ve got drug take-downs going on all the time.”
Later in his presentation, Stuart added, “I’m not empathetic to drug dealers. I’m empathetic with victims of crimes.”
He counts among those victims the drug users who are seeking treatment in various facilities throughout his district. Drug use, he emphasized, cuts across “every demographic.”
“There’s no one size fits all in treatment,” he said. “I’m a big believer in redemption.”
To no one’s surprise, Stuart spoke at some length about his well-documented opposition to efforts to legalize marijuana.
“I’m very outspoken about marijuana,” he pointed out. “I’m a critic of marijuana.”
He said marijuana use is linked to violent crime, that it is difficult to test for the drug in a user’s system and that today’s marijuana is much more potent than the Woodstock generation’s was.
“Teen usage is through the roof,” Stuart said.
He urged his audience to be wary of those who are lobbying in favor of legalization, saying, “Use your own mind and make your own judgment.”
Those attending Thursday’s forum — presented in partnership with West Virginia’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coalitions — included Greenbrier County Commissioner Tammy Tincher, Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan and Lewisburg Police Chief Chris Teubert.