With New York State in the news recently for becoming the 23rd state in the country to enact a medical marijuana law, and Colorado and Washington State outright legalizing marijuana for recreational use, drug law reform will likely become even more of a hot-button topic in the coming election cycles.
Personally, I think this is a good thing. It’s about time Americans rethink how they approach the criminalization of controlled substances.
Changing Drug-Related Prison Sentences
Almost a third of the states in the U.S., including Texas, have passed reforms to reduce length of drug-related sentences, and there is currently a bi-partisan effort in Congress to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would allow courts to impose shorter sentences for drug-related offenses depending on the defendant’s criminal history. But these initiatives, including a proposal by the United States Sentencing Commission to revise federal sentencing guidelines, while laudable, actually miss the point.
The reason small-time drug dealers and drug mules are overcrowding the prisons while the leaders of the large drug networks go unpunished is because of the harsh, weight-based standards (that date back to 1986!) used in sentencing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lowly street dealer or desperate drug mule, you and the kingpin importing drugs into the U.S. will receive the same sentencing based solely on how many kilograms you’re caught carrying. And take a guess who’s overcrowding our prisons?
The Problem with the War on Drugs
The United States has, by far, the world’s highest incarceration rate. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased 790 percent, and over 50 percent of the current population is serving a sentence for a drug-related crime. This level of mass incarceration puts both the prisoners and prison staff and guards at risk and has done little to deter the drug trade.
In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in an effort to correct the infamous Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which mandated minimum sentences for drug offenses, including a five-year sentence with no parole for possession of five grams of crack cocaine or 500 grams of powder cocaine. (The disparity there, in case you missed it, is a ratio of 100:1.) Under the Fair Sentencing Act, the ratio was reduced to 18:1, the idea being that crack is a far more dangerous drug than cocaine.
But the problem remains the same: since sentencing is imposed based on the weight of drugs seized, the occasional street dealer or desperate drug mule will receive the same sentence as a major drug wholesaler. The sentencing is unjust, and ultimately, has proved completely ineffective on the so-called “war on drugs,” a term first coined in 1971 and now considered as out-of-date as the pastel T-shirts and white Armani suits Don Johnson wore on “Miami Vice.”
Harsh sentences based on weight of seized drugs do not take into account the relatively small, often nonviolent role of the offender in the so-called “war on drugs.” These types of sentences have only resulted in overcrowded prisons and little to no chance for rehabilitation or reform. Both state and federal law enforcement resources would be put to better use by going after the kingpins who operate and are profiting from drug operations.
The Houston Drug Crimes Attorney
If you or a loved one is facing drug charges, contact Thiessen Law Firm today and schedule your free consultation. We’ll look at every aspect of your case, including whether search and seizure laws were violated, and fight for your freedom.