#329 Your Letters To The Editor Are Important

Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2006
Subject: #329 Your Letters To The Editor Are Important


******************** PLEASE COPY AND DISTRIBUTE ************************

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #329 – Saturday, 24 June 2006

Every day newspapers print items on their editorial pages worthy of
your response by sending the paper a letter for publication.

You see the items as shown at this link, and many of you do respond by
sending the editors letters. http://www.mapinc.org/opinion.htm

Today we call your attention to an OPED, below, printed in today’s
Washington Post on page A21. The OPED was written by Eric E. Sterling,
President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
http://www.cjpf.org and Julie Stewart, President of Families Against
Mandatory Minimums http://www.famm.org

Please consider sending a letter to the Washington Post in response to
the OPED at their email address


Thanks for your effort and support.

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



When Len Bias, the basketball star, overdosed on cocaine 20 years ago,
Len Bias, the symbol, was born. To many he symbolized the corruption
of college athletics — stars whose academic performance is poor, if
not irrelevant, but who are essential to bringing in donations and
other revenue. To others, he became the object lesson: Cocaine is
dangerous, don’t do it, you can die. For yet others, Bias symbolizes
the danger that arises when a powerful symbol overwhelms careful
judgment about what ought to be the law.

Immediately after Bias’s death, the speaker of the House of
Representatives, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr., from the Boston area
(where Bias had just signed with the Celtics), issued a demand to his
fellow Democrats for anti-drug legislation. Senior congressional
staffers began meeting regularly in the speaker’s conference room as
practically every committee in the House wrote Len Bias-inspired
legislation attacking the drug problem. News conferences around the
Capitol featured members of Congress extolling their efforts to clamp
down on cocaine and crack.

One result was the innocuous-sounding Narcotics Penalties and
Enforcement Act, which became the first element of the enormous
Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, hurried to the floor a little over two
months after Bias’s death. But the effect of the penalties and
enforcement legislation was to put back into federal law the kind of
clumsy mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses that had been
done away with 16 years before. And there they remain, 20 years and
several hundred thousand defendants later.

Congress wanted to send several messages by again enacting mandatory
minimums: to the Justice Department to be more focused on high-level
traffickers; to major traffickers that the new penalties would destroy
them; to the voters that members of Congress could fight crime as
vigorously as the police and prosecutors. But Congress garbled the
message. Instead of targeting large-scale traffickers, it established
low-level drug quantities to trigger lengthy mandatory minimum prison
terms: five grams (the weight of five packets of artificial
sweetener), 50 grams (the weight of a candy bar), 500 grams (the
weight of two cups of sugar) or 5,000 grams (the weight of a lunchbox
of cocaine). Large-scale traffickers organize shipments of drugs
totaling tons — many millions of grams — filling tractor-trailers,
airplanes and fishing boats.

The Justice Department has compounded the problem by focusing on
countless low-level offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports
that only 15 percent of federal cocaine traffickers can be classified
as high-level. Seventy percent are low-level. One-third of all federal
cocaine cases involve an average of 52 grams, a candy bar-sized
quantity of cocaine, resulting in an average sentence of almost nine
years in prison without parole.

Not surprisingly, the federal prison population has exploded. From
1954 to 1976, it fluctuated between 20,000 and 24,000. By 1986 it had
grown to 36,000. Today it exceeds 190,000 prisoners, up 527 percent in
20 years. More than half this population is made up of drug offenders,
most of whom are serving sentences created in the weeks after Len Bias

Sadly, the nation’s drug abuse situation is not much better after 20
years. Teenagers are using very dangerous drugs at twice the rate they
did in the 1980s. The price of cocaine is much lower and the purity
much higher, which tells us that the traffickers have become more efficient.

There is a trickle of hope that mandatory sentences as a legacy of
Bias’s death might come to an end. A handful of conservative members
of the House Judiciary Committee have begun to question the wisdom of
current mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and some vote against them.
The first round of mandatory minimums for drug offenses, enacted in
1951, was repealed almost 20 years later, with bipartisan support.
Among those who backed repeal was George H.W. Bush, then a congressman
from Texas. With his son in the White House, this would be a good time
for history to repeat itself, and for this sad legacy of Len Bias’s
death to finally end.

Eric E. Sterling, counsel to the House Judiciary Committee from 1979
to 1989, is president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Julie
Stewart is president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.


Suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism


Or contact MAP Media Activism Facilitator Steve Heath for personal
tips on how to write LTEs that get printed, and how to write OPEDs for
publication as the members of our Drug Policy Writers Group
http://mapinc.org/resource/dpwg/ do.




Please post a copy of your letter or report your action to the sent
letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by
E-mailing a copy directly to heath@mapinc.org if you are not
subscribed. Your letter will then be forwarded to the list so others
can learn from your efforts.

Subscribing to the Sent LTE list (sentlte@mapinc.org) will help you to
review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or
approaches as well as keeping others aware of your important writing

To subscribe to the Sent LTE mailing list see



Prepared by: Richard Lake, http://www.drugnews.org =.