We live in an era when the War on Drugs is extremely unpopular. The vast majority of the country wants to see it rolled back to some extent, and some even want it to end completely.
And it’s no wonder that’s the case. The facts behind drugs are complicated, involving a mix of addiction, poverty, police and society biases, and common mistakes. For all those extenuating points, drug laws are incredibly harsh. Just consider the crack cocaine laws in Massachusetts as outlined by .
This supposedly very liberal state that you would expect to have far more lenient laws still has a mandatory minimum sentence of one year for a first-time offender. For a single mistake, or self-medication of a serious problem, a person must go to jail for one year. It’s even worse if it’s a second offense. That involves a mandatory three-and-a-half years in prison.
Those mandatory minimums have come under a lot of criticism in recent years. Part of that is because of the absurd number of people in American jails because of them, and part of that is because there’s no evidence that such tough tactics work.
In fact, quite the opposite. Mandatory minimums remove the ability of judges and juries to sentence according to the actual situation. They have their hands tied even when the convicted individual has a highly sympathetic reason for their possession of the drug.
While quality lawyers like Mr. Powderly can help some individuals avoid these punishments through excellent lawyering skills, that by no means saves everyone who is at risk of suffering mandatory sentences.
As more people now recognize, the best method to deal with drug problems is through providing the tools to recover from addiction or to remove the individual from a bad environment. While it would be ridiculous to say no one should ever go to jail for a drug crime, the vast majority of cases would be better dealt with through counseling, addiction programs, and efforts to improve life prospects for those caught with the drugs.
This is by no means a novel point. Again, the majority of people are behind this, but for some reason, our laws continue to lag behind. Whether it’s Massachusetts, Alabama, or Alaska, the laws are all built off an outdated notion that drug use can be limited through threats.
More should be done to provide access to lawyers like Mr. Powderly in the short-term to help more people escape punishments that do no one any good and cost taxpayers millions. In the longer term, we must all lobby our states and our federal representatives to change these laws so that they represent a more effective and more compassionate way to deal with the drug problem in this country.
Crack cocaine may be a serious problem in Cape Cod and elsewhere in this country, but the way towns, cities, states, and the country at large handle the problem isn’t working. We need a better solution now.