Friday, May 10, 2013

Congress Is Creating an Over-Criminalization Task Force. Will it Tackle the Drug War?

Congress Is Creating an Over-Criminalization Task Force. Will it Tackle the Drug War?:
Earlier this week the House of Representatives
announced
the creation
of the Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013.
Between now and Nov. 30, 2013, five Democrats and five Republicans
will "conduct hearings and investigations relating to
over-criminalization issues" and release reports.
With over 4,500 federal crimes in the U.S. code, which ones can
we expect the task force to tackle?
Matt Sledge of the Huffington Post
reports
that task force member Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)
hopes to "examine the drug laws in this country." Fellow task force
members Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY.),
both co-sponsors of marijuana reform bills
, will likely
want to do the same. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will definitely have
something to say about mandatory minimums, seeing as he and Rep.
Thomas Massie (R-Ky.)
co-sponsored
the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (a
version of which
Sen. Rand Paul introduced in the Senate). Rep.
Karen Bass (D-Calif.), meanwhile, supports the Ending
Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Act and the Federal Prison
Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act.
In other words, the task force Democrats are united in wanting
federal drug law reform.
But what about the Republican members? In the late 90s, task
force chair Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) opposed federal
funding of clean needle exchanges and allowing D.C. to implement a
medical marijuana program. In 2005,
he introduced the borderline-insane
Safe Access to Drug
Treatment and Child Protection Act:
The bill creates harsh new penalties for a variety of nonviolent
drug offenses, including a mandatory minimum five years for anyone
who passes a joint to someone who has ever been in drug treatment,
five years for someone who has been in treatment who asks a friend
to find them drugs, and ten years for mothers who have been in
treatment who commit certain drug offenses at home -- even if their
kids aren't there.
Another task force member, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.),
supports the ONDCP's (ineffective) anti-marijuana advertising
campaign and is a staunch opponent of online gambling. (Fun fact:
In 2010, he accused
Bill Maher of treason
.) Neither Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
nor Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is on the record supporting or
opposing any drug-related bills. While that's also true for Rep.
George Holding (R-N.C.), the former prosecutor's campaign
website features a revealing boast
: "When he left office the
average sentence in drug trafficking cases in eastern North
Carolina was almost twice the national average." Seeing as the bulk
of federal drug offenders are doing time for trafficking, I don't
imagine Holding will be all that interested in reducing penalties
for them.
And let's not forget that Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob
Goodlatte (R-Va.) will be an ex officio member of the task force
and a gatekeeper of sorts for the task force's recommendations.

He's on record as
"oppos[ing] any effort to legalize
marijuana." Goodlatte's big concern, which he shares with the other
Republican members of the task force, is the increasing number of
Americans "who have found themselves breaking the law with no
intent of doing so."
Rep. John Conyers, who, as ranking member of the Judiciary
Committee, is also an ex officio member of the task force, wants
the group to address the fact that "the incarceration rate for
African Americans is six times that of the national incarceration
average."
Hopefully, the task force will find a way to address cases
like this one
 and cases
like this one
.
Consolation prize:
None of these people are on the task force