Pubdate: Sat, 09 Aug 2014
Source: Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Orlando Sentinel
Note: Rarely prints out-of-state LTEs.
Author: Casey Given
Note: Casey Given, 24, of Washington, D.C., is an editor and 
political commentator at Young Voices, a policy project of the 
international nonprofit Students For Liberty.


On May 12, 1996, Miami police raided the home of Richard Brown on a 
false tip that the 73-year-old retiree with no criminal record was 
selling drugs. After busting the door open, police claim that 
Richards began firing a gun, prompting officers to pump 123 rounds 
into his body.

However, a later investigation revealed that the gun police allege 
Brown had used had no traces of his fingerprints on them. Brown's 
14-year-old great-granddaughter, Janeka, reported he was not holding 
a gun when he instructed her to take shelter in a bathroom moments 
before he was killed.

Sadly, Brown is just one of countless victims of the war on drugs, a 
federal policy push that has squandered billions of dollars 
overcrowding America's prisons, militarizing state and local police, 
and making no measurable impact reducing drug abuse. It's time for 
Americans to stand up against this failed policy as taxpayers and, 
more important, human beings.

Since 2001, the Department of Homeland Security alone has spent $34 
billion in federal grants for state and local police departments to 
purchase paramilitarylike equipment, including tanks and assault 
rifles. While the circumstances surrounding Brown's raid may seem 
unique, mistakes are commonly made in SWAT operations. By the Cato 
Institute's count, there have been 14 raids on innocent suspects in 
Florida over the past three decades, three of which have ended in death.

This problem is particularly pronounced in Florida because of the 
state's harsh mandatory-minimum sentencing requirements. Under state 
law, individuals can be convicted for prescription-drug trafficking 
by simply possessing more than four grams (seven pills) of 
opiate-based painkillers. As a result of these draconian punishment 
laws, Florida prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with more than 
100,000 inmates in state custody at a cost of more than $2 billion per year.

Many residents convicted of these harsh state laws are not violent 
offenders; they just got caught up in unfortunate circumstances. One 
such example is Scott Earle, a Florida man who occasionally used 
Vicodin to treat the residual pain from numerous car accidents 
throughout his life.

A few months after being prescribed the drug in September 1995 for a 
diverticulitis attack, Scott was introduced to a woman at a local bar 
who began romantically pursuing him. As their relationship began to 
blossom, the woman began asking him for Vicodin to treat her back 
pain. Three months after meeting her, Scott was arrested for felony 
drug trafficking and conspiracy. She was an undercover cop.

Sadly, such ridiculous sentencing is not a problem exclusive to 
Florida, but one that persists on the federal level as well. About 
half of the close to 200,000 inmates in U.S. custody are serving time 
for drug offenses; many of them were locked up for crimes as simple 
as marijuana possession. In fact, cannabis is responsible for the 
largest chunk of drug convictions at 27.6 percent more than harder 
narcotics like methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

In total, there are more than 2.2 million Americans in state, local 
or federal custody. The U.S. has spent roughly $1 trillion on drug 
prohibition since 1971. But despite these massive costs in dollars 
and human lives, marijuana and prescription-drug abuse has risen, 
defeating the very purpose for which the war on drugs was launched.

As taxpayers and human beings, it's high time to stand up against the 
war on drugs' incredible waste and demand more humane approaches like 
treatment and decriminalization. Especially in Florida, lawmakers can 
follow the lead of other states like Texas and Louisiana that have 
successfully enacted drug-sentencing reform.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom