Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

January 19, 2007 - Capital Times (WI)

Column: Sentencing Laws Should Make Sense

By Dave Zweifel

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A few years back I told the story here about a Madison man who was sent off to five years in federal prison because he grew 101 marijuana plants in the basement of his home.

He raised the pot, not to sell to anyone, but to smoke himself to ease the back pain that had plagued him since a bad auto accident.

The feds, however, caught him with the marijuana and, because there were 101 plants, Judge John Shabaz had no recourse but to send him to a full five years in the federal pen.

Had there been 99 plants, the judge would have been allowed to use his own discretion.

And since this was a first-time offense and there was no evidence that there was any intention to sell the pot, he undoubtedly would have received a much lighter sentence.

But those law-and-order members of Congress in the late '80s were determined to wage a "war on drugs." And they weren't about to allow any "weak-kneed" judge to show drug users any sympathy.

So no matter the individual circumstances, they all wound up crowding the prison system at a great cost to taxpayers.

Now that the Democrats have retaken control of Congress, these asinine mandatory sentences may finally become a thing of the past.

And it isn't just federal judges who were appointed by previous Democratic administrations who are asking for a change, but many of the judges named to the bench by Republicans, including George W. Bush himself.

"These sentences can serve a purpose in certain types of cases involving certain types of offenders," Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., a Bush appointee, told the New York Times, "but when you apply them across the board you end up doing a disservice not just to individuals but to society at large."

New House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, has announced he will hold hearings on the mandatory sentencing laws by the end of the month.

Interestingly, several federal judges have made public statements urging a change, something they feared to do when the Judiciary Committee was headed by that Wisconsin embarrassment, Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls.

It was not above Sensenbrenner to put a federal judge through the ordeal of a congressional review of his or her sentencing patterns if that judge had the audacity to criticize decisions made by Congress.

Thankfully, Sensenbrenner is now relegated to the minority. Perhaps some common sense will now return to the nation's sentencing laws.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact