By Craig Cesal
The author, marijuana offender Craig Cesal, was sentenced in 2002 to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He is convicted of conspiring- to possess marijuana, and even as a first time offender, he must die in prison for his crime.
The common mantra, non-violent drug offense, is actually a misnomer. It is redundant .A drug crime is limited to the possession of drugs, or of the act to manufacture, dispense, or distribute a controlled substance. Thus, a drug offense is no more violent than an IRS violation. If a drug or marijuana offender also commits violent acts, just as the tax scofflaw, the violent acts would be prosecuted under the applicable law, i.e. Assault. Therefor, all drug crimes are. non-violent.
It is counterintuitive then, to learn that the law provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment for possession of marijuana, or any other drug, but violent crimes only convey up to twenty years imprisonment under federal law.
Of course, there is an exception for murder, for, when intentional, carries up to life imprisonment, or even the death penalty. In contrast, however, assault with a deadly weapon resulting in serious injury, a violation of 18 USC §1959, only exposes the offender to up to twenty years. Drug crimes, such as possession with intent to distribute marijuana, cocaine, crack, heroin, methamphetamine, and other controlled substances inflict a sentence of up to life imprisonment.
This prisoner notes that the criminal statute regarding rape of a prisoner only prescribes a sentence of up to two years. Providing material support to terrorists has a range of up to 15 years imprisonment, but would prescribe up to life imprisonment if the offender provided terrorists with marijuana.
It is time for Congress to conclude that the so-called War on Drugs has failed. Despite its lofty goals, it has hurt more people, and families, than it has helped–if it has helped any .Federal drug offenses should impose the same, or less punishment than violent crimes. All states and most other countries punish violent offenders more harshly than marijuana conspirators. It is high time for the United States to reach parity with the effective criminal justice priorities espoused by these sovereigns.
A Little History on How a Marijuana Offender Gets Life for Pot
The gradual slide from punishing violent offenders more severely than drug conspirators began in 1970, and culminated in 1986. The more than 45 year history of this experiment proves it has failed. America’s appetite for drugs, especially marijuana, has not diminished. Indeed, recently it has gained social acceptance with a majority of Americans favoring marijuana legalization.
The 1970’s and 1980’s saw a dramatic increase in violent crime throughout the United States. The perceived culprit was illicit drugs. Many Americans were persuaded by the narrative that a drug user’s desperate acts to obtain the drugs he craved, or alternatively the drug dealer’s quest to protect his drug sales territory, was the cause of the rise in violent crime. Lawmakers were convinced that the root of all violent crime was drug activity, and politicians were called upon to stem the bloodshed.
In the hysteria that followed, in 1970, the Congress enacted the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, and the Controlled Substances Act (the CSA). Those new federal laws criminalized not only the crossing of state lines with drugs, but now street level transactions were wrested into the ambit of federal prosecution. Under the CSA, distribution of marijuana now carried a penalty of up to five years imprisonment .Federal prison populations’ ballooned, but violent crime still raged.
The moniker “War on Drugs” was launched in a speech by President Nixon on June 17, 1971. The President also accelerated the blame-the-drugs frenzy through the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency through Executive Order #11727, on July 6, 1973. These bureaucrats and law enforcement agents failed to reduce violent crime, and they failed to suppress illicit drug activity. Street drug distribution proliferated as more and different kinds of drugs were distributed.
Following the enactment of the Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978, and the Infant Formula Act of 1980, possession of more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana now brought a punishment of up to fifteen years in prison. There was no stopping the skyrocketing violent crime rates.
Under President Reagan, the War on Drugs received additional ammunition following the enactment of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.The ADA dramatically increased the penalties to be imposed for distributing drugs. Mandatory minimum sentences were added, and the statutory maximum sentence was increased to life imprisonment for all drugs, including marijuana .Offenders now faced five year, ten year, twenty year, and life imprisonment as a minimum sentence.
The three strikes law condemned those with two prior drug convictions, no matter how minor, to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Currently, about one-half of the 207,000 federal prisoners are serving time under the strictures of theAnti-Drug Abuse Act. There are more federal prisoners serving life sentences for drugs, than are serving life sentences for a violent crime. A marijuana offense now carries life imprisonment, even for a first offense.
In order to vitiate the disparity in sentences meted-out by federal judges for similar crimes, in 1987, the US Sentencing Guidelines took effect. These guidelines limited a judge’s discretion to sentence anywhere he wished within the zero to life statutory framework. Under the guidelines, a judge must compute an applicable guideline range, based on factors such as the amount of drugs involved, plus what the judge believes the offender distributed in the past, called relevant conduct. Also, factors such as criminal history, guns, role in the offense, and the offender’s cooperation with law enforcement aren’t considered in the guideline computation. Under the applicable statute, 18 USC §3553·, since 1987 a judge is bound to sentence within the approximately four year range established as the computed guideline range. Drug sentences, including life sentences, are virtually always imposed by relying on the computed guideline range.
Guidelines are promulgated by the U .S. Sentencing Commission based on statutory ranges set by the Congress for each offense (18 USC §994). The statutory maximum for a marijuana offense should be lowered to less than twenty years, in order to reach equipoise with a violent offense, such as bank robbery. This would generate a corresponding reduction in the guidelines by the Sentencing Commission.
Several bills are currently before Congress seeking lower mandatory minimum sentence levels, and those changes, though proper, are not championed here. A lowering of the statutory maximum sentence _would precipitate a correlative lowering of the applicable sentencing guideline ranges.These guideline changes could be applied retroactively, under the discretion of the sentencing judge, to those already sentenced under the current guidelines which are higher than those assigned to violent crimes. Many judges have advocated for this change .
President Nixon, and President Reagan sought to quash the rise in violent crime through the War on Drugs. In federal prison, convicts learn that shooting a bank teller and taking the money earns the offender about ten years in prison. Slinging pot garners a life sentence. The War on Drugs, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act counsels criminals to commit violent crimes to get money. Federal prison has become the incubator for violent criminals.
What’s the Solution?
The ADA must be abolished and the statutory maximum sentence for marijuana should revert to fifteen years. No drug offense should prescribe a punishment greater than a violent offense. Graduated increases for repeat offenders should reflect the seriousness of the defendant’s crime, as well as ·their criminal history. Judges must not be forced to impose mandatory life imprisonment as a one-size-fits-all drug sentence. Marijuana cartel operators, even marijuana store owners operating legally under state law, should only be held to the same statutory range as a person guilty of Genocide (Destroying racial or religious group through violent crimes, 18 USC §1091). This is up to 20 years imprisonment.
The War on Drugs,and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act has failed. Now is the time to reform federal drug law by repealing the ADA in its entirety . Over 100,000 federal prisoners languish in prison under 20 year, 30 year, and life sentences for comparatively minor drug offenses. Violent offenders come and go with five year sentences.
Libertarians would favor a less intrusive government. The Republicans would favor less federal spending on marijuana interdiction. Democrats espouse assisting the majority minority prison population. Now is the time to repeal the ADA .