Monday, December 13, 2010

The Nation on Drugs

Keep your eyes peeled for The Nation's December 27 issue, which is devoted to how America can end its  War on Drugs.  The magazine's title is "Dare to End the War on Drugs" and features articles from the heads of stalwart drug policy groups like Drug Policy Alliance and The Sentencing Project.  The head of the latter, Marc Mauer, does a nice job addressing the unjust sentences that have become part and parcel of the War on Drugs.  While narrowing the crack-powder disparity with passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was a good first step, says Mauer (citing a FAMM Profile of Injustice and one of our biggest legislative victories, reform of Michigan's 650 Lifer law), it shouldn't be the last:

As welcome as the reforms are, they leave in place the broad structure of mandatory sentencing for most drug offenses, under which judges have no discretion to consider mitigating circumstances such as the defendant's age, parenthood or history of abuse. Such policies have produced outcomes as bizarre as the fifty-five-year prison sentence imposed in 2004 on Weldon Angelos, a 24-year-old music producer in Utah with no prior felony convictions. On three separate occasions, Angelos sold about $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant. At each sale, Angelos possessed a gun, which he neither used nor threatened to use. Yet under the terms of federal mandatory penalties, Judge Paul Cassell, a George W. Bush appointee, was required to impose what was essentially a life sentence, which he called "unjust, cruel, and even irrational."
FAMM's Profiles of Injustice include many other examples of crazy sentences that are creating crazy costs for taxpayers.  Next year is the 25th anniversary of federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.  Twenty-five years is long enough -- and expensive enough -- to know that this policy doesn't work and destroys lives, families, and communities.