Thursday, October 29, 2009

This is Your Criminal Justice System on Drugs

Will there ever be a politician with the balls to work on abolishing some of the draconian and ultimately ineffective drug sentencing laws in this stupid country? Jacob Sullum at Reason:
Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that bong water is an illegal drug. Under state law, a controlled substance includes any "mixture" containing that substance, "regardless of purity." The consequences of reading that definition literally can be severe. In the case before the court, a woman whose bong contained 37 grams of water with traces of methamphetamine will now be treated as if she possessed 37 grams of speed, which converts possession of drug paraphernalia, a petty misdemeanor punishable by a $300 fine, into a a first-degree drug offense, punishable by seven or more years in prison. Three dissenting justices wrote that the majority's interpretation of the statute "misapplies the plain-meaning rule...runs counter to the legislative structure of our drug laws, does not make common sense, and borders on the absurd."

In that column, Sullum refers to a previous absurdity...
Back in 1993, I wrote a piece for Reason in which I highlighted the ridiculously unjust results of including the "carrier medium" for LSD (typically blotter paper) in calculating the drug's weight for sentencing purposes:

Under federal sentencing guidelines, selling 100 doses of LSD in pure form triggers a minimum sentence of less than a year, but selling the same amount on paper will get you a sentence of at least two years, three months. And if you were old-fashioned enough to drop your acid onto sugar cubes, you will end up behind bars for no less than 15 years, eight months.

That makes about as much sense as tacking on the weight of the car in when someone's busted for a bag of weed in the glovebox.

Mandatory sentencing and the disparity between different drugs has made this whole thing a fucking joke.

[h/t Sullivan]


Smitty said...

I had a package of mandatory minimum reform bill pass the MI House unanimously.

It got held-up in the Senate committee because "drugs are not a victimless crime. Drug offenders don't just victimize one person; they victimize everyone they sell to and everyone they talk into their dark art. And when they get out, many of them victimize lots of people over and over again. At least a murderer only victimizes one person. Drug offenders victimize hundreds or more."

The bills are stuck in the Senate. On that logic. Shoot me.

The Other Susan said...

The whole "3 strikes, you're out",
mandatory sentencing, zero tolerance thing makes me crazy.

Strip searching an 8th grader for possible illegal possession of ibuprofen? Give me a fucking break.

Make put legal & tax it. Release everyone who is currently jailed on some bullshit marijuana charge.

I have a zero tolerance policy for zero tolerance.

And mandatory sentencing--don't we appoint/elect judges so they can use their, oh, what the heck, JUDGMENT?

Eric Wilde said...

Jim Webb.

Eric Wilde said...

I like Portugal's approach. Every recreational drug, including heroin and meth, should be legal.

Bob said...

"zero tolerance policy for zero tolerance..."

I want to know how "zero tolerance" became zero due process in the schools. Some real brain dead people in the schools implementing that policy stupidly.

Mr Furious said...

Schools are one of those places where Constitutional rights always seem to be under siege, or on the edge...

Freedom of Speech is constantly challenged and the school usually wins. That strip-searching shit has gone waaaay too far. I'm not sure what kind of fucking idiots implemented, and then FOLLOW some of those guidelines.

That is an instance where I will side AGAINST the protection offered by a union. Actions of many public employees are shielded by those protections—cops, teachers, etc. It doesn't usually apply to administrators, but if individuals are never at risk of being held accountible for their actions and the school or city assumes all the risk, it's a recipe for disaster.

An incident like that girl with the ibuprofen should result in a housecleaning of everyone involved—board, nurse, principal...everyone.

You're too fucking stupid and abusive to work with children. Period.

Mr Furious said...

To be clear, administrators (police, school, mayor, etc) are usually shielded from liability when performing their duty, but not in a union.

Mr Furious said...

Back to the drugs sentencing...

Not only do these ridiculous sentences for minor offenses victimize far more people than the perpetrator in most cases—really how many lives was that bong-water lady going to destroy? Throwing otherwise law-abiding people behind bars for stupid shit destroys THAT person's life, and anyone close to them.

Smitty said...

The sad part is this: that prison is an industry. That when we want to shrink the prison population because we have too many people locked up for a long time for silly shit, we can't shrink it too much because we will close prisons and...lose jobs (dun-dun-dunnnnn).

Mr Furious said...

I call bullshit on that excuse.

1. Private prisons? they can kiss my ass. I don't give a shit what happens to them.

2. Gov't-run prisons? Perhaps relieving overcrowding and bringing inmate-guard ratios down to a realistic level would be nice.

I'm not ruining lives and keeping people locked up just so someone else has a clock to punch.

You're right, though. Prisons are big $$$ these days, and as we with everything from health care to coal mining, money control the gov't.

Mr Furious said...

Reason #348,956 to make elections publicly-financed.

Then we'd only be screwed by political cowardice of appearing weak on crime instead of that PLUS bribery.

steves said...

I want to know how "zero tolerance" became zero due process in the schools. Some real brain dead people in the schools implementing that policy stupidly.

Most of the ZT policies are coming from the legislature. The policies in regards to weapons in Michigan schools are the brain(dead)child of the legislature following Columbine and the need to look like they were doing something about it. This is how we got students being put on huge suspensions for having toenail clippers in their locker. Most schools didn't want this and I am aware of several that chose to ignore the law and just use common sense and reason to deal with "weapons".

We are seeing the same thing with anti-bullying laws. Just you wait and see what comes out of that whole mess. I am certainly not suggesting that some schools don't deal with this stuff very poorly, but most do quite well, but the media will only tell us about the badly handled situations.

Schools are one of those places where Constitutional rights always seem to be under siege, or on the edge...

I am generally in agreement with how freedom of speech is handled in schools. Some things that should be allowed in adult society are a distraction in schools and seem to be mostly done to get attention. As for search and seizure, I think they go too far and I would prefer some more procedural safeguards.

The drug laws we have are asinine, but I don't see them changing soon. This is one of the few areas where people from both parties can hold hands, and pledge bipartisan support. Obama seems willing to back off on medical marijuana, but Biden is a big proponent of drug laws. Let's hope Obama chooses to ignore him in this area.

Being from a rural area, I have mixed feelings about prison closures, as most of the prisons that get closed are in rural areas. In the end, I would prefer to see most non-violent offenders released into some other kind of programs, such as halfway houses and monitored parole.