Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth M
A Senior Republican in Congress has proposed what would essentially be a draft for the War on Drugs. The legislation would require all Americans who witness or learn about certain drug offenses to report them to the police within 24 hours and go undercover and wear a wire to catch the offenders if ordered to do so — even if the offender is their son or daughter. Introduced by Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the “Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act” (H.R. 1528), would also overturn a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision by making all federal sentencing guidelines essentially mandatory and enacting new draconian penalties for a variety of non-violent drug offenses.
“It’s frightening that a senior member of Congress wants to draft every American into the War on Drugs and make them agents of the state,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This totalitarian legislation forces citizens to spy on each other and pits family member against family member.”
Under the legislation, any American who witnesses or learns of certain drug offenses taking place would have to report the offenses to law enforcement within 24 hours and provide “full assistance” in the investigation, apprehension, and prosecution of the people involved. Failure to do so would be a crime punishable by a mandatory two year prison sentence and a maximum of ten years.
An example of an offense that would have to be reported to the police within 24 hours is finding out that one’s brother, who has children, bought a bag of marijuana to share with his wife. Another example is finding out that one’s son gave his college roommate a marijuana joint.
In each of these cases one is forced to report the relative to the police within 24 hours. One would also have to assist the government in every way, including wearing a wire if needed. Taking 48 hours to think about it could land one in jail. In addition to turning family member against family member, the legislation could also put many ordinary Americans into dangerous situations by forcing them to go undercover to gain evidence against strangers.
Despite growing opposition to mandatory minimum sentences, the bill also eliminates federal judges’ ability to give sentences below the minimum sentence recommended by federal sentencing guidelines – essentially creating a mandatory minimum sentence for every federal offense (including both drug and non-drug offenses). It also mandates a 10-year minimum sentence for anyone 21 or older who gives marijuana or others drugs to someone under 18 (i.e. a 21-year-old college students shares a joint to his 17-year old brother). A second offense would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Anyone at a party who passes a marijuana joint at a party to someone who has at some point in their life been in drug treatment would face a mandatory 5-year minimum prison sentence.
“Our country’s prisons are already overcrowded with people serving massive sentences for non-violent drug offenses,” said Bill Piper. “The recent Supreme Court decision provided a perfect opportunity for legislators to do the right thing and untie judges’ hands. Instead, they’re trying to handcuff the judges completely.”
The bill has been put on the same legislative fast-track as a recent controversial anti-gang bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed in less than two month’s time.