Momentum is building in Texas to reduce possession of less than a gram of cocaine from a state jail felony (six months to two years in state jail, day-for-day) to a class A misdemeanor (up to a year in county jail, with time off for good conduct); 16 of 22 Harris County felony court judges publicly support the reform (Brian Rogers in the Chronicle) —
“The ‘War on Drugs’ isn’t working, and we as judges realize it,” [Judge Mike] McSpadden said. “And the public realizes it.”
Judge McSpadden has been on the bench for 26 years; he knows whereof he speaks. This position is not new for him, but the public support of 15 other felony judges is. Most of Harris County’s professional criminal bar — prosecutors and defense lawyers — know that he’s right. One particular politician, however, does not; she needs more time to study the problem:
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said the problem is multifaceted, and she is studying the best ways to solve the problems associated with drug abuse, including pre-trial diversion and residential treatment centers.
She said she was looking at the “big picture” and noted that Class A misdemeanors could still involve jail time, which wouldn’t help jail overcrowding, and that small drug arrests lower other crimes in neighborhoods.
Lykos also pointed out that any drug user contributes money to criminal empires, including drug lords in Mexico and terrorists worldwide.
“Anyone who uses illicit drugs has blood on their hands,” she said.
Yes, it’s a multifaceted problem. But WADR, in her 27 years as a judge and retired judge in government service, Pat Lykos has had plenty of time to study the best ways to solve the problems associated with drug abuse.
Changing an offense from a felony with a minimum of six months in jail to a misdemeanor with a maximum (accounting for good time) of six months in jail will help jail overcrowding. That’s not some vague political theory, it’s mathematics.
I’ll give Pat Lykos her last two points — that small drug arrests lower other crimes in neighborhoods, and that users of illicit drugs have blood on their hands. But arresting people for class A misdemeanor possession of cocaine, police are still making the small drug arrests that lower other crimes in neighborhoods.
More importantly, though, the blood that cocaine users have on their hands and (largely) the other crimes committed by illicit drug users are the result not of the use of drugs but of the use of illicit drugs.
Cocaine is just a chemical. It has no more and no less moral weight than any other chemical. It’s bad for you, but treat it like other chemicals that are bad for you — like ethanol or high fructose corn syrup — and it’s just another commodity. Outlaw it, though, and threaten government-sanctioned violence against those who possess it, and you create a black market with its attendant dangers, among which is the use of violence in aid of security and market share.
I’ve known drug lords in Mexico. They’re not making money because
they’re trafficking in something intrinsically valuable or inherently immoral, but because
they’re trafficking in something with a value artificially inflated by
government. Legalize cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine,
and the drug lords are out of business. (When was the last time you heard of gangs
killing each other over alcohol territory? Have you ever heard of
Seagram’s giving money to terrorists worldwide?)
So who’s responsible for drug violence? Not only those in the stream of commerce, but also those who support the creation of the black market: those who write and enforce the laws that make drug production, transportation and sales so lucrative.
Reducing cocaine possession from a felony to a misdemeanor is not going far enough. As long as some drugs are illegal, it’ll be both profitable and unregulatable to traffic in them. In the discussion of whether cocaine possession should be felony or misdemeanor, the “blood on their hands” argument has no place.
If all those with blood on their hands for making drug dealing profitable were to be convicted of felonies, a lot of judges, prosecutors, and legislators would be serving time.