Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2002 / 4 Adar, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
Dose of justice needed here
ON TUESDAY, President Bush announced a new
Drug Control Strategy with the goal of reducing
illegal drug use in America by 25 percent over five
Too bad that Bush forgot to address the glaring
inequities in federal drug sentencing laws and
In fact, the closest Bush got to federal drug
sentencing was his amorphous pledge to "punish
those who deal in death."
Sounds good, but the feds have so corrupted the
drug sentencing laws that they often misuse
conspiracy laws meant to punish drug kingpins. As
a result, underlings get hard time and the kingpins --
who can testify against a league of underlings --
walk or receive reduced sentences.
Which leads to five more items that should be part
of the Bush drug strategy.
First, Bush should send a directive to federal law
enforcement agencies to not cut deals that enable
kingpins to skate while they testify against their
underlings. Julie Stewart of Families Against
Mandatory Minimums calls this "trading down" and
it goes against the intent of the law. "They're
supposed to be working their way up the chain, not
down," she noted.
Second, Bush should tell federal prosecutors to
charge small-time criminals and dealers' girlfriends
only for the drugs they've handled, and not for the
bulk drug traffic of their overlords. Said Stewart,
"The quantity alone does not necessarily reflect the
culpability of the defendant."
Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy
Foundation thinks Bush should send a management
directive that says, "We're going to look at the
significant cases, not just the numbers."
Third, call for an overhaul of the draconian federal
It's possible, maybe even likely, that the
administration will deliver on this. Stewart noted that
the president "is aware that sentencing at the
extremes is out of control." John Walters, director
of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told
me, "We are undertaking a serious review of
mandatory minimums." He hopes the review will be
complete in four to six weeks.
Readers should let the White House know that they
support sentencing reforms.
Fourth, Bush should start using his pardon power
by commuting the sentences of first-time nonviolent
drug offenders serving decades-long sentences in
federal prison. Consider Clarence Aaron, who is
serving a life sentence for hooking up two drug
dealers on a huge drug deal. Yes, he deserves to
serve time -- but not as much time as FBI
agent-turned traitor Robert Hanssen.
Fifth, Bush should let local and state governments
pass their own laws. I realize this is easier said than
done and that some cannabis clubs, for example, so
flout federal drug laws -- by smoking pot publicly,
for example -- that the feds might feel compelled to
make a statement punctuated with handcuffs.
But when local governments follow the letter of
local laws -- and it could be argued that's not the
case with some California medical marijuana clubs
-- the Bushies should stand back. America's drug
problem is so complicated that the nation only can
benefit when different jurisdictions try different
Whenever I write on this issue, I hear from two sets
Libertarians argue that all drugs should be legal;
some even assert that if legal, drug use would go
down. (If that were true, Washington could legalize
white-collar crime and there would be less fraud.
Who believes that?)
Fact is, no one knows what would happen.
The other extreme supports locking up all Clarence
Aarons for life. One strike and you're out. They
apparently believe their kids would never be so
stupid -- I only hope that they're right.
In the real world, there are some murderous
opportunists who live large off the sweat of some
not very bright (and not very malevolent) people.
Save long sentences for the kingpins, and mete out
lesser sentences to the street-level chumps. Allow
locals to deal with their drug problems locally.
There would be no better way for Bush to find
support for his drug war in corners where he never
Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.
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