#219 Misguided Federal Drug Law Enforcement Priorities

Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2001
Subject: #219 Misguided Federal Drug Law Enforcement Priorities

Misguided Federal Drug Law Enforcement Priorities

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #219 Monday August 27, 2001

On Friday Aug. 24, The Washington Post editorial board published an
astute editorial denouncing U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Specifically they noted his incredibly skewed assertions regarding the
success of federal drug prosecutions against ‘major drug traffickers.’
In fact, as the Post editorial reminded us, the true story is that the
vast majority of federal prosecutions are leveled against minor
offenders, and most of them are for marijuana offenses.

The editorial directly questioned the ‘misplaced priorities’ of both
Aschroft’s office and federal drug law enforcement in general. It
clearly noted the fact that marijuana ‘is hardly the most dangerous of
drugs’, and that ‘the unique federal role in the drug war ought to
be….the drugs that constitute the greatest threat to the national

Please write a letter TODAY to the Washington Post thanking them for
their coverage of this topic. Key points could be to note the
misleading statements of AG Ashcroft; the fact that 2/3 of federal
drug offenders cannot even afford to pay for their own defense; the
fact that rules of federal court combined with mandatory minimums
force many defendants into accepting Draconian plea bargains; and of
course the hypocrisy in prosecuting tens of thousands for marijuana
offenses when the drugs that constitute the greatest threat to
national health’ are federally approved alcohol and tobacco.

Thanks for your effort and support.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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Source: Washington Post
Contact: letters@washpost.com


US DC: Editorial: Misplaced Priorities
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n1556/a05.html
Newshawk: register
Pubdate: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/491
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/ashcroft.htm (Ashcroft, John)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/prison.htm (Incarceration)


ATTORNEY GENERAL John Ashcroft responded to the Justice Department’s
latest figures on drug prosecutions by claiming that they prove that
“federal law enforcement is targeted effectively at convicting major
drug traffickers and punishing them with longer lockups in prison.”
The data the department released show almost the opposite: that the
nation’s tough drug sentencing regime is, to a great extent, being
used to lock up comparatively low-level offenders who could easily be
prosecuted in state courts. The data, far from affirming that the
federal drug effort is a success, raise real questions about the
federal government’s prosecutorial priorities in the war on drugs.

The growth in federal drug prosecutions over the past two decades has
been prodigious. Between 1984 and 1999, the number of suspects
referred to federal prosecutors in drug matters tripled, to more than
38,000 — of whom 84 percent were prosecuted. Drug cases during that
time went from 18 percent of the total federal criminal caseload to 32
percent. According to other department data, drug convicts now account
for 57 percent of the federal inmate population, in contrast to only
21 percent of the much larger state population.

This growth is not, as the attorney general suggests, largely the
result of locking up major traffickers. In 1999 only about one-half of
1 percent of criminal referrals were for the most serious drug cases
— those involving what are known as continuing criminal enterprises
— and these led to only 116 actual prison sentences. Two-thirds of
drug defendants could not afford to hire their own lawyers, a good
indication that they were hardly high-level traffickers. In fact, 38
percent of all convictions involved quantities of drugs small enough
that no mandatory minimum sentence could be applied, while only 3
percent resulted in mandatory minimum sentences of longer than 10
years in prison. In 1997 the department reports, 14 percent of federal
drug inmates were in prison for drug use, and 42 percent were serving
time for dealing — either at the street level or above. It is simply
wrong to argue that the focus of the federal drug effort has been kingpins.

Rather, in many jurisdictions, federal drug investigations and
prosecutions seem to run parallel with efforts of state prosecutors
and local police forces.

Another striking feature of the department’s data is the
disproportionate role that marijuana seems to be playing in federal
drug prosecution. Marijuana is hardly the most dangerous of drugs. Yet
31 percent of federal drug referrals involved marijuana offenses in
1999, more than for any other type of drug. And though these referrals
ultimately produced shorter sentences, they were actually more likely
to result in prosecutions than cases involving powder cocaine, crack
cocaine or heroine. Marijuana cases all by themselves now account for
a measurable percentage of the entire federal criminal caseload.

This hardly seems rational. The unique federal role in the drug war
ought to be the prosecution of major interstate trafficking cases
involving the most dangerous people — and the drugs that constitute
the greatest threat to the national health.



To the editor of the Washington Post:

I appreciated the editorial on the lopsided bias of federal drug
prosecutions toward little fish as opposed to kingpins (“Misplaced
Priorities,” Aug. 24).

As disturbing as the figures are, John Ashcroft’s doublespeak
(“…federal law enforcement is targeted effectively at convicting
major drug traffickers and punishing them with longer lockups in
prison…”) is even scarier. Of course, we should not be surprised
that a professional prohibitionist will say night is day if he thought
the sun might reflect negatively on the drug war. They seem to think
that if they keep telling themselves and the public that everything is
just great, it will be just great. Perhaps Ashcroft is worried that if
this particular failure of the drug war is acknowledged, then the
public might expect all the failures to be acknowledged.

To be fair, the demands on the Attorney General are many, thus
acknowledging the myriad problems of the drug war could turn into a
full time job.

It’s not just the priorities of the drug war that need to be examined
– the whole idea of controlling drugs through coercive force should be
subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Only then will we see how much we
really pay for the drug war and how, in return, we get nothing but
violence, corruption and disinformation from our alleged public servants.

Stephen Young

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Prepared by Stephen Heath – http://www.drugsense.org/dpffl/ and
Stephen Young – http://home.att.net/~theyoungfamily Focus Alert