Editorial: Congress's Bad Joke 3/22/02

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items

more...

recent blog posts "In the Trenches" activist feed

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!!!

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 3/22/02

One of my favorite items in druglibrary.org's Schaffer Library is "The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States," a speech delivered in 1995 to the California Judges Association conference by Prof. Charles Whitebread of the University of Southern California School of Law (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm).  Prof. Whitebread, formerly of the University of Virginia, and another UVA law professor, Richard Bonnie, authored a several hundred page history of the marijuana laws, "The Forbidden Fruit And The Tree Of Knowledge: An Inquiry Into The Legal History Of American Marijuana Prohibition," published in the Virginia Law Review in 1970.

My favorite anecdote from the speech is what happened when Bonnie and Whitebread, more than three decades later, went to the Library of Congress in Washington to look at the transcript of the Tax Act's hearings. As Prof. Whitebread explains in his speech, Congressional hearings are lengthy affairs with copious testimony that take up many pages when written down. So Bonnie and Whitebread, and the librarians, were shocked when they couldn't find anything!

The transcript, as it turns out, was there. A few weeks later a librarian contacted our professor friends and explained what had happened: The bound document was so short that it had slipped out behind the books on its shelf and fallen down in back. But that wasn't the end of it either: The thin booklet had somehow gotten wedged in between the bottom and the back of the bookshelf, and so tightly that the librarians were unable to pull it out. They had to empty the bookshelf and smash it into pieces in order to liberate the transcript.

Tapes from the Nixon Oval Office released this week reveal a similarly stupid manner of policymaking when that administration escalated marijuana enforcement, and the drug war as a whole, 30 years ago. It was 30 years ago today that the president's National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse released its lengthy, comprehensive report. "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding" -- also available in the Schaffer Library (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm) called for decriminalization, a recommendation the administration obviously ignored.

But Nixon's rejection of decrim was no more thoroughly reasoned than Congress's decision 35 years before to prohibit marijuana in the first place. The Nixon tapes show that the president's decision to escalate the drug war was based not only on fundamental misconceptions about the nature of drugs, but on prejudices toward various groups of people -- specifically, gays, jews and radical political protesters -- whom he disliked or mistrusted and with whom he rightly or wrongly believed marijuana and marijuana activism were associated. Whitebread as well as other researchers have found that it is common, in fact, for anti-drug legislation to be driven by racial or cultural tension.

Ignorance and thoughtlessness has continued to pervade the drug war. In the mid-1980s, for example, Congress passed extraordinarily harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences. But unlike when Congress enacted marijuana prohibition with extremely minimal hearings in 1937, this time they didn't hold any hearings. Large numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders are serving years or even decades in prison, many of them very decent people and many of them innocent by any meaningful definition of guilt.

And this week, as the US Sentencing Commission prepares to reexamine powder and crack cocaine sentencing -- possessing a mere five grams of crack gets you a mandatory five years, the same as 500 grams of powder -- the Department of Justice has come out and stated it thinks crack sentencing is just fine. The Sentencing Commission examined this issue in great depth several years ago and decided crack sentences should be lowered to the same level as powder, but were blocked from making that change by Congress. But despite all evidence as well as the hideous immorality of these sentences, DOJ thinks that maybe powder sentences should go higher! Call it the Department of Injustice instead.

Congress's bad joke isn't funny anymore. The lost transcript and smashed bookshelf in the Library of Congress make a nice metaphor for the forgotten origins of bad drug laws. It is important to drug out these little known historical memories -- both the humorous and the tragic -- and tell those stories again and again until the nation and the people in power see the truth.

-- END --
Link to Drug War Facts
Please make a generous donation to support Drug War Chronicle in 2007!          

PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.

Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Issue #229, 3/22/02 Editorial: Congress's Bad Joke | DRCNet Launching John W. Perry Scholarship Fund for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions at NYC Event on March 26 | Alert: Tell Congress to Repeal the HEA Drug Provision in Full | Supreme Court Hears Arguments in High School Drug Testing Case -- Comments by Justices Ominous | 3th Anniversary of Shafer Commission Report -- New Nixon Tapes Reveal Twisted Thinking at Root of Modern Marijuana War | Bush Administration Asks Congress to Lift All Restrictions on Aid to Colombia | Colorado State University Opens Nation's First College Drug Court | Canadian Firm That Sued US Over Hemp Foods Ban Set to Meet With Array of Feds -- NAFTA Rules Force US to Talk to Kenex | Medical Marijuana Bills Still Moving in Maryland, Vermont | Sentencing Project Study Finds 135,000 Children Affected by Welfare Ban for Drug Offenders | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar
Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
Chronicle archives
Subscribe now!
Out from the Shadows HEA Drug Provision Drug War Chronicle Perry Fund DRCNet en EspaŮol Speakeasy Blogs About Us Home
Why Legalization? NJ Racial Profiling Archive Subscribe Donate DRCNet em PortuguÍs Latest News Drug Library Search
special friends links: SSDP - Flex Your Rights - IAL - Drug War Facts

StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)
1623 Connecticut Ave., NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20009 Phone (202) 293-8340 Fax (202) 293-8344 [email protected]