China seems to be our model

In China, they put people to death for certain drug offenses. In Amsterdam, you can smoke weed in public. In the U.S., a person can be put in prison for 25 years for something as simple as seeking out prescription pills for their own use.Guess which country has the lowest percentage of drug use among their population.

Surprise. Holland. (Maybe you weren’t that surprised.)

Not surprising, though, is that neither the death penalty nor mandatory-minimum sentences have much of an effect on drug use. In fact, in both China and the U.S., drug use has done everything but go down.

“Lock them up and get on with our business” is a much easier thing to do than digging deep into the real problems behind drug addiction (economic, social, emotional) but like other wars fought against undefeatable enemies (*ahem*, terror) much of the fighting suffers from too much black-and-white simplification, ignorance, and easy, lazy “solutions”.

Sometimes, drug addiction isn’t even the problem.

In Florida, a man named Richard Paey is now serving a 25 year sentence for filling prescriptions for 700 oxycodone pills and other pain medications in a span of 36 days. Paey, who was in a serious car wreck and went through botched back surgery afterward, is now confined to a wheelchair with unremitting back pain. With no evidence of any intent to do anything other than use the pills for his own pain, he was put in prison.

In an opinion written by dissenting Associate Judge James Seals in Paey’s first, and unsuccessful, appeal, the ridiculousness of mandatory-minimums is laid out beautifully: “”I suggest that it is unusual, illogical, and unjust that Mr. Paey could conceivably go to prison for a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully purchasing 100 oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at knife point, stolen 50 oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist.”

Regardless of your views on drugs, your views on drug sentencing should be the same. Non-violent drug offenders are spending more time in prison than offenders convicted of rape. Is it fair that mitigating circumstances can lessen a violent rape case but not a case brought against someone for purchasing prescription drugs for private use?

Mandatory minimum sentences are still being used, despite their ineffectiveness. People with no intent to sell or distribute their drugs, held for personal use, are being sent to prison for years, only to come out still addicted, still jobless, homeless and looking for a fix.

Yes, people who sell tons of drugs–“kingpins”–should be put behind bars but, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, only 11 percent of all federal drug defendants are classified as high-level dealers.

The rest? Low level street dealers, mules, and people with drugs on their possession for personal use.

Sentences like this are given out all the time. Yes, people disobeying the law and selling/using illegal drugs should be punished (which drugs should be legalized and how personal drug use should be handled is a different argument altogether) and until more liberal laws on drug use are passed, the laws that are now on the books need to be dealt with. Putting people away for years, regardless of their reasons for doing a drug, is backwards and cruel, and sentences that support this type of treatment should be abolished.

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