Slightly Fairer Sentencing

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Statement
by Congressman Ron Paul before the United States House of Representatives
on the Fair Sentencing Act.

Extension statement
for the Congressional Record:

Madam Speaker,
I rise in reluctant support for S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act.
My support is reluctant because S. 1789 is an uncomfortable mix
of some provisions that reduce the harms of the federal war on drugs
and other provisions that increase the harms of that disastrous
and unconstitutional war. I am supporting this legislation because
I am optimistic the legislation’s overall effect will be positive.

Congress should
be looking critically at how we can extricate America from the four
decades of destruction that has ensued since President Richard Nixon
announced the federal war on drugs in 1972. As a medical doctor
with over 30 years’ experience, I certainly recognize the dangers
that can arise from drug abuse. However, experience shows that the
federal drug war creates many additional dangers, while failing
to reduce the problems associated with drug abuse. Like 14 years
of federal alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and ’30s, America’s
federal drug war has failed to ameliorate the problems associated
with drug use, while fostering violence and disrespect for individual
rights.

While imperfect,
I am optimistic that the Senate bill being considered today will
reduce the harms of the federal drug war. I also hope consideration
of this legislation will enliven interest in ending the federal
war on drugs.

It is unfortunate
that the House of Representatives is today considering this compromise
legislation from the Senate instead of Rep. Bobby Scott’s HR
3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act. I am an original cosponsor
of Rep. Scott’s bill, which passed the House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary on July 29, 2009 — one year ago
tomorrow. Rep. Scott’s legislation is a short and simple bill
that repeals a handful of clauses, sentences, and subparagraphs
of federal drug laws to eliminate the 100 to one drug weight basis
for sentencing disparity for crack cocaine violations in comparison
to powder cocaine violations.

I will vote
for the Senate legislation today because it rolls back some of the
enhanced mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine that the
federal government created in 1986. These enhanced mandatory minimum
sentences have caused people convicted for small amounts of crack
cocaine to serve much longer sentences in prison than people convicted
for the same amount of powder cocaine.

While the Senate
legislation reduces the drug weight basis for mandatory minimum
sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine convictions
for many individuals to only 18 to one compared to the total elimination
of the disparity in Rep. Scott’s bill, the Senate bill does
make a step in the right direction. The Senate bill eliminates entirely
the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine
and reduces significantly the mandatory minimum sentence for many
people convicted of crack offenses by raising the number of grams
of crack cocaine a person must possess for each mandatory minimum
sentence level to apply. In addition, the Senate bill allows courts
to show compassion for individuals with compelling cases for leniency
by reducing sentences for some people convicted of controlled substances
violations who a court determines meet requirements including having
minimum knowledge of the illegal enterprise, receiving no monetary
compensation from the illegal transaction, and being motivated by
threats, fear, or an intimate or family relationship.

Unfortunately,
while the Senate bill reduces some of the most extreme and unjust
mandatory minimum sentences in the federal drug war, it also contains
expansions of the federal drug war that I fear may yield results
destructive to individual liberty and public safety. In particular,
the Senate bill significantly increases maximum allowed monetary
penalties for violations of federal restrictions on controlled substances
and increases sentences for people convicted of controlled substances
violations whose circumstances include certain aggravating factors.

Some people
will argue that the increased penalties in the Senate legislation
are desirable because they target people who are high up in the
illegal drug trade or who took particularly disturbing actions,
such as involving a minor in drug trafficking. But, the history
of the federal drug war has shown that ramping up penalties always
results in increasing rather than decreasing the harms arising from
the federal drug war. Such enhanced penalties increase the risks
of the drug trade thus causing illegal drug operations to be more
ruthless and violent in their tactics. Enhanced penalties also can
result in even more inflated prices for illegal drugs, leading to
more thefts by individuals seeking funds to support their drug use.
High monetary fines for drug trafficking also tend to provide police
and prosecutors with a perverse incentive to focus on nonviolent
drug crimes instead of violent crimes.

Each successive
ramping up of the federal war on drugs has made it more evident
that this war is incompatible with constitutional government, individual
liberty, and prosperity. It is time for Congress to reverse course.
I am optimistic that S. 1789 — even with its faults — may
signal that Congress is ready to begin reversing course. It is imperative
that the House of Representatives pursue a dialogue on how we can
end the federal war on drugs — a war that has increasingly become
a war on the American people and our Constitution.

See
the Ron Paul File

July
30, 2010

Dr. Ron
Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.

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