David Borden, Executive Director, borden@drcnet.org

New Jersey's Republican Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, must have enjoyed the party -- Dick Cheney's welcoming party at the GOP Convention last Sunday, that is -- where she got to introduce the guest of honor.

Not all New Jerseyans were celebrating, though. Early that morning, a little before dawn, a tragedy occurred. In a Neptune, New Jersey jail cell, some 80 miles to the east, 23-year old Kenneth Gregorio, a communications major at Monmouth University, hung himself.

Gregorio had been arrested with a friend, who together were facing charges for possession and intended sale of 49,000 tablets of the drug Ecstasy, according to the New York Times.

As recently as early summer, Ecstasy was a "third-degree offense" in New Jersey, in fact was legal in the United States until 1985. Not surprisingly -- the total number of deaths attributed by medical examiners to Ecstasy in 1998, the latest year for which statistics are available, is only nine. One may be more likely to get struck by lightning than to die from Ecstasy.

49,000 is a lot of pills, but in light of the total amount coming in to the country -- 8 million seized so far this year, which by definition is only a fraction of the total -- it is not a major contribution to the "Ecstasy problem," if problem it truly is. The likelihood of even one fatality coming out of Gregorio's Ecstasy stash is a small fraction of a percent. And, it must be said, all the users he would have supplied, thousands though they might be, are willing participants who have knowingly accepted whatever risk, large or small, that the drug poses.

Yet under a new law, spearheaded by Gov. Whitman, Ecstasy is now a "first-degree" offense, and Gregorio and his friend were potentially facing up to 20 years in prison. As the Governor rested in her mansion, getting ready for the party, a new "tough on drugs" law under her belt, Kenneth Gregorio decided that life on the wrong side of Whitman's law wasn't worth living, and chose to end it. As the Governor partied, Gregorio's family and friends may have just been getting the bad news.

Suppose that Ecstasy really were the bane of America's youth and Gregorio a major player in that trade; and suppose we didn't already know that prohibition doesn't work, and set aside all notions of personal freedom and responsibility to which prohibition is anathema. Would a 20-year sentence be a just one? Human Rights Watch's Jamie Fellner, addressing the Shadow Convention, remarked that we have lost all sense of proportion and forgotten just how severe a punishment incarceration is, even for just one year; a year is a long time. Instead, commented Fellner, we mete out 20 year sentences like they are "cough medicine." 20 years? At 23 years old?

Was Whitman thinking about Kenneth Gregorio, had she even heard about it, by the time of the party? Was she thinking about the men, women and newborn children with AIDS resulting from her opposition to needle exchange, despite all the evidence supporting it?

Just one more life devoured by a demagogic drug warrior's political ambitions. One more lost soul forgotten at the party, by the party.

-- END --
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Issue #148, 8/4/00 The Shadow Convention: Drug Reformers Flex Muscles in Philadelphia | Canadian Appeals Court Calls Marijuana Laws Unconstitutional, Ottawa Must Act or Marijuana Could Be Legal in Ontario Next Year | Police Chiefs Call for National Commission on Criminal Justice Issues: Cite Lack of Trust, Corruption, Police Violence, Racial Profiling | A Barrel Full of Bad Apples: Police Corruption and the War on Drugs | Salt Lake City Mayor "Just Says No" to DARE | Follow That Story: Clinton Sets Juan Raul Garza Execution Date | From Real Life: Lawrence and Lamont Garrison | US Justice Department Petitions Supreme Court to Overturn OCBC Ruling | 9th Circuit Says Immigrants Cannot Be Deported For Expunged Drug Offenses | AlertS: Colombia, Mandatory Minimums, California, New York, Washington | HEA Campaign | Event Calendar | Washington, DC Job Opportunity for Public Interest Attorney, Other Positions | Editorial: Whitman's Victim
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