The Drug Laws That Changed How We Punish
California paved the way for the drug war in 1907 by passing a law that criminalized opium . Opium was widely accepted before then, Miller says. California’s move to make it illegal was propelled by animosity towards Chinese immigrants, who were known to smoke the drug. These immigrants engendered a lot of hostility because they worked hard for little pay. “Now of course you can’t throw people in jail because they’re Chinese. You can throw them in jail for smoking opium,” Miller says in the documentary. Also around the turn of the century, more states moved to make cocaine illegal after people started associating its use with blacks. A June 1900 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association warned that “Negroes in some parts of the South are … addicted to a new form of vice ,” according to Paul Gahlinger’s history of illegal drugs . Marijuana, which was sold in pharmacies in the 19th century, only became illegal in the 1930s after an influx of Mexican-American immigrants popularized its recreational use. “These laws set up a very dangerous precedent of racial control,” Miller told Jarecki. This level of control has had a particularly harsh impact on black Americans. A hundred years after America passed its first drug laws, blacks still make up a disproportionately high number of prisoners .
America Has More Reasonable Drug Laws Than Canada: What the Hell?
Persico says Rockefeller decided that more progressive approaches to drug addiction had simply failed. The governor had heard about this new, zero-tolerance approach to crime while studying Japan’s war on drugs. I have one goal and one objective, and that is to stop the pushing of drugs and to protect the innocent victim. – Gov. Nelson Rockefeller “And we all looked a little bit shocked, and one of the staff said, ‘Sounds a little bit severe.’ And he said, ‘That’s because you don’t understand the problem.’ And then we realized he was very serious,” Persico says. Rockefeller launched his campaign to toughen New York’s laws at a press conference in January 1973 almost exactly 40 years ago. He called for something unheard of: mandatory prison sentences of 15 years to life for drug dealers and addicts even those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin. “I have one goal and one objective, and that is to stop the pushing of drugs and to protect the innocent victim,” Rockefeller said. Getting Tough Catches On From the start, Rockefeller’s policy drew sharp criticism from drug treatment experts and some politicians, who called the sentences draconian. But no one really understood what the laws would mean or how many millions of people they would touch. Albert Rosenblatt was a prosecutor at the time and wrote the first book detailing how district attorneys would implement the new rules. “I don’t remember thinking or believing, nor did my colleague DAs at the time, that this was going to somehow revolutionize and change everything,” Rosenblatt says. The Jan. 4, 1973, edition of the New York Daily News reports that Gov.
Jerry Madden, the former head of the Texas House Committee on Corrections, is a very conservative Republican. Yet in recent years he has helped steer Texas away from harsh incarceration policies for minor crimes, including drug infractions. His philosophy on keeping people out of jail? “It’s a very expensive thing to build new prisons and, if you build ’em, I guarantee you they will come. They’ll be filled, OK? Because people will send them there. If you don’t build ’em, [we] will come up with very creative things to do that keep the community safe and yet still do the incarceration necessary.” The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and half the prisoners are there on drug convictions. With plenty of conservative support, the Obama administration has issued directives designed to lock up fewer people for shorter periods of time. “We must never stop being tough on crime,” Attorney General Eric Holder said a few days ago. “But we must also be smarter on crime. Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason.” This is progressive thinking, whether it comes from the right, the left, or the middle. And regressive thinking?
California Senate approves change to drug law
Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, countered that the bill could help chip away at the problem of crowding in California prisons. “We’re talking about a universe of people who will still be charged with one or more felonies. They will likely be going to state prison,” Leno said. “The question is, do we want them to take up limited bed space for two or three years, or five or ten or 15 years?” The state Senate passed the bill on a vote of 24-15. It now heads back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown. PHOTO: Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, in the Assembly chambers in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua A Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved. About Comments Reader comments on Sacbee.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the “report abuse” button below it.