While the furor over presidential candidate George W. Bush's alleged past cocaine use has temporarily abated, another prominent Republican has come under scrutiny for apparent inconsistencies between his public policies and family preferences.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported this week that Morgan Grams, 21-year old son of U.S. Senator Rod Grams, was driven home and released by Anoka Chief Deputy Peter Beberg, after ten bags of marijuana were found in the car he was driving. In addition to having marijuana, Grams was driving without a license and was on probation for drinking and driving.
Beberg said he pulled over Morgan Grams after receiving a call from the Senator, who said he "learned he might be in trouble, and asked the authorities to find him." Beberg, who is also the Mayor of Anoka, told the Tribune their was no special treament: "Just because it's Rod Grams' kid doesn't mean that I would back away from it. But there was nothing I could arrest him for."
There did seem to be sufficient grounds to arrest Grams' 17-year old passenger, however, who was charged with marijuana possession and spent over a month in a juvenile detention center. Nine of the ten bags were being carried by the passenger, but one was found under Grams' seat.
Marijuana aside, Grams' possible violation of his parole -- terms of which included a judge's order not to possess alcohol or other mood-altering substances -- could have netted him at least three months in jail. Beberg told the Tribune there were beer cans in the car, but they were full and unopened, including the one at Grams' feet. A worker at the car rental agency, however, said that five or six empties were found under the seat.
Senator Grams told the Tribune, "My son has struggled with addiction and behavioral problems for years and has received treatment for these problems... It is my primary duty as his father to set aside my disappointment and see to it that he gets treatment and continues to get help for his problems."
But while Grams was no doubt relieved to have his son at home and receiving treatment, he has taken a strong interest in seeing other drug users lose their homes entirely and get sent to prison. In 1997, for example, Grams championed legislation requiring eviction of public housing tenants upon discovery of any amount of any illegal drug, on or off housing grounds (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/5-8-1.html). In January of this year, he cosponsored legislation to lower the quantities of powder cocaine that invoke five and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences, and last week he supported a similar amendment that passed the Senate.
Peter Erlinder, a professor of constitutional law and criminal justice at William Mitchell College of Law, told the Tribune, "It has all the appearances of a case of clear-cut preferential treatment" and "It would be easy to find thousands of African-Americans, Hispanics and working-class white males who are in prison for exactly the circumstances that occurred in this case." Neal Melton, executive director of the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which licenses peace officers, told the Tribune, "Normally, you'd arrest everyone in the car. They'd all be questioned separately, then booked on the appropriate charges."
Preferential treatment for family of members of Congress is nothing new. The November-December, 1998 issue of Newsbriefs summarized known cases, including the son Rep. Dan Burton, arrested twice on marijuana charges (see http://www.ndsn.org/NOVDEC98/PUBLIC.html).