May 28, 2024

Just Say No

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that judges do have the discretion to override federal sentencing guidelines in their courtrooms:

By a 7-2 vote, the court said that a 15-year sentence given to Derrick Kimbrough, a black veteran of the 1991 war with Iraq, was acceptable, even though federal sentencing guidelines called for Kimbrough to receive 19 to 22 years.

"In making that determination, the judge may consider the disparity between the guidelines’ treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion.

The decision was announced ahead of a vote scheduled for Tuesday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets the guidelines, that could cut prison time for up to an estimated 19,500 federal inmates convicted of crack crimes.

So nearly 20K crack heads will be back on the streets sooner than expected.  That’s not good.

That is, it’s not good at all as long as we’re still acting like Puritans over the issue of drug use. 

We’ve spent tremendous amounts to administer an ongoing, hopeless, expensive struggle to stop a burgeoning supply of drugs from coming into the U.S.  In my opinion doing so is foolish because it’s a nearly complete waste of time, money, and of moral capital. 

Time, for both law enforcement and criminals, because all of these people’s lives could be spent better than sitting in jail cells, courtrooms, and police cars. 

Money, for obvious reasons – some estimates put the direct cost of drug enforcement laws at nearly $48B, to say nothing of the indirect costs in terms of lost productivity, crime and its related effects, and wasted potential.

Moral capital?  Well, what else is the "war on drugs" except a morality-based decision to outlaw the consumption of certain plant derivatives?  There’s no grand purpose behind the law, no great achievement to produce, no fundamental Constitutional principle up for debate, and certainly no higher power explicitly defining drugs as a mortal wrong.  Where is the government’s moral authority to declare drug use a crime? 

In fact, I’d say that there’s no purpose whatever behind the war on drugs except a government’s decision to tell its citizens ‘You can’t do that".  The fact that they’ve backed it up with multi-year prison sentences only makes the abridgment of our individual rights that much more draconian.

While I am worried about the impact of so many druggies being released onto our streets, that concern exists not because of drug use itself but because of what drug users must do in order to obtain the stuff.  Drug-related crime, in my estimation, is more a result of drugs being illegal than anything else.

True, there are certainly issues with stoners driving while high, etc., and crashing into other people.  Yet we already have laws that cover these situations.  Getting wasted, it seems to me, is a personal decision.  Junkie may ruin their health or lose their lives because of it.  So what?  Marrying the wrong person or taking the wrong job can do the same thing to a person, yet no one is suggesting that the state dictate who my spouse should be or whether I’ll be allowed to take a high-paying but stressful job.

The Supreme Court’s decision is a good one, I think, because it puts power and discretion back in the hands of judges where it belongs.  The rise in crime that I expect to accompany it will be as unfortunate as it is predictable.  Yet it is the criminalization of drug use that will directly cause these crimes to occur.  They do not have to happen.  Yet they will, because the state is utterly certain that it knows what is best for people.  In this case, as in an increasing number of others, we are not free to do as we wish but must obey the laws handed down from men on high – pun intended.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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