Pubdate: Sun, 28 May 2006
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2006 PG Publishing
Author: Eric Sterling


Why might the drug problem -- especially crack cocaine -- be exploding
in West Virginia ("Desperate Drug War Fought All Over W.Va.," May 21)?

One reason is that the federal government has been wasting its
resources. Congress sent the wrong signal in 1986 when it created
mandatory minimum sentence triggers of 5, 50, 500 and 5,000 grams of
crack and cocaine. I helped write that law as counsel to the House
Judiciary Committee, and we goofed, big time.

In global or national terms, these are very small quantities. 5,000
grams -- 12 pounds -- fits in a briefcase or lunch box. Even worth
$100,000, in drug dealing terms, this is not much. Due to those laws,
too often the Drug Enforcement Administration focuses on local drug
rings that local police can investigate.

The DEA does not focus on the international drug traffickers who send
cargo containers of cocaine to the United States. The DEA will give
you anecdotes of its high-level cases, but more than two-thirds of
federal crack cases have involved an average of 52 grams of cocaine, a
candy bar's weight. Only 7 percent of federal cocaine cases involve
high-level traffickers. As a result the price of cocaine has gone down
and the purity at retail has increased.

Congress needs to direct the DEA and the Justice Department to do
their jobs -- fighting the highest-level traffickers.

Of course, it feels good to help every "Barney Fife" sheriff's office,
and West Virginia is a poor state. But if the DEA had been doing its
job, then why, 20 years after President Reagan declared war on drugs,
after spending almost a half trillion dollars and quadrupling the
number of federal drug prisoners, is West Virginia now being flooded
with drugs?



Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

Silver Spring, MD