Pubdate: Fri, 21 Nov 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Photo: Souder and former SSDP national director Shawn Heller, moments 
before Souder loses his cool in a televised street encounter in his 
Related: Rep. Souder Prepares To Introduce 'Lung Disease Promotion Act'


One of Congress's staunchest drug warriors, Rep. Mark Souder, is at it
again. The Indiana Republican best known for authoring the Higher
Education Act's anti-drug provision is about to introduce legislation
that would jam federal prisons even more full of drug offenders. The
bill, called with Orwellian flair the "Drug Sentencing Reform Act," is
set to be introduced within the next two weeks, and Souder is looking
for cosponsors, reported the Drug Policy Alliance (,
which has two staffers working Capitol Hill full-time and which is
organizing to kill the bill.

According to an explanation of the bill provided in a Souder e-mail to
his colleagues his legislation would:

* Expand the purview of the Feeney Amendment, which restricts federal
judges' ability to reduce sentences, to include drug offenses.

* Mandate random drug testing for almost all federal parolees and
probationers, not just drug offenders or people suspected of having
substance abuse problems.

* Direct the US Sentencing Commission to no longer allow lower
sentences for nonviolent drug offenders who have certain mitigating
circumstances (such as being addicted to drugs) or who lack previous
criminal records.

* Create harsh new penalties for growing "high-potency"

"This was a little holiday surprise," said Bill Piper, legislative
director at DPA's Washington office, "and it's not a very pleasant
one. This bill is overwhelmingly bad," he told DRCNet, "it's all
sentencing and no reform. This bill continues a trend of tying the
hands of judges and preventing them from reducing sentences for drug
offenders. Not only will more people go to prison for longer stays,
the taxpayers will have to pay for it."

The sentencing provisions are not the only provisions that will leave
taxpayers clutching their wallets, Piper said. "The mandatory drug
testing provision will also cost," he said. "Right now, judges have
discretion on ordering testing, and they usually only impose a drug
testing condition on parolees who have drug charges or a substance
abuse problem, but this bill would require everyone on supervised
release to have drug tests, even if there is no reason to believe they
might be using drugs. It costs money to test every single federal
parolee or probationer," Piper explained.

And while corrections departments in the states are moving to rein in
the practice of returning parolees to prison for "administrative"
violations such as failing a drug test (see California newsbrief this
issue), federal drug testing will be used to re-imprison thousands of
nonviolent drug offenders for years, Piper added. There is an
exception for some federal misdemeanors or if prosecutors move to
waive drug testing. "When is that going to happen?" Piper asked. "The
states are trying to fix this problem, but Souder is moving in the
opposite direction."

And then there's Souder's continuing war on marijuana. Long a loud
opponent of medical marijuana, Souder has crafted a "high-potency" pot
provision seemingly designed to be used against medical marijuana
grows in states where the practice is legal. According to the bill's
draft, marijuana growing offenders will be sentenced not just on the
weight of the drug but according to its potency. Souder's bill creates
three classes of high potency pot, between 6 and 13% THC, 13-25% THC,
and greater than 25% THC.

The changes in sentencing for high-potency growers would be dramatic
under the Souder bill. For instance, if someone grew 50 plants in
California as part of a medical marijuana program, under current law
he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison. Under the
Souder bill, the same grower would face a mandatory minimum 5-year
sentence and a maximum 40-year sentence.

"This is really about the cultural war on marijuana," said Piper.
"They know they're losing the battle in terms of public support for
the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. Both Souder and
John Walters like to talk about 'super-pot,' not your father's pot,
this dangerous high-potency stuff. They also want to go after the pot
co-ops, and it's easier to say they're going after dangerous,
high-potency marijuana than it is for them to argue that we need
increased marijuana penalties across the board."

Medical marijuana users smoke marijuana with high THC concentrations
because it works better for them, said Piper. "It is ironic that
Souder would discourage people from using stronger marijuana. People
using more potent pot smoke less, and that's good for their health.
Souder is encouraging people to grow and smoke low-quality pot, which
means marijuana smokers will just smoke more."

That provision also provoked the Marijuana Policy Project
( to jump in to oppose the bill. "This bill is a
direct threat to the health of patients and to the caregivers and
loved ones who assist them," said Steve Fox, MPP director of
government relations. "Souder should call his bill the Lung Disease
Promotion Act of 2003. The only serious health risks associated with
marijuana use involve lung problems like bronchitis caused by the tars
in smoke, and research has shown that users of higher-THC marijuana
inhale less of those contaminants."

While Souder scurries around seeking cosponsors, DPA is gearing up to
ensure that he finds few or none. "We're doing a whole bunch of things
to blunt this bill," said Piper. "We're encouraging people to call
their representatives and tell them not to cosponsor, we've contacted
congressional offices with the same message, we've faxed every
congressional office a one-page analysis, and we're working to get
media around so people are too embarrassed to become cosponsors," he

Visit to view a
copy of the Souder e-mail. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake