Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Who Wants To Double Down On The Catastrophically Failed War On Drugs?


Monday we learned exactly who. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy scheduled a debate on Charlie Dent's Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act (H.R. 3537) for Monday. It puts 22 synthetic compounds-- including 11 used to create synthetic marijuana (K2 or Spice)-- on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), forcing mandatory minimum sentences on violators. Proponents of the legislation claim it's meant to combat drug abuse. The vote was 258-101 but it was an interesting breakdown. Most Republicans voted YES and most Democrats voted NO, but that doesn't really tell the story at all. McCarthy and Dent led 192 Republicans to back it and they were joined by 66 mostly right-wing Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- Blue Dogs like Gwen Graham (FL), Henry Cuellar (TX), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Jim Cooper (TN), and Brad Ashford (NE) and New Dems like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Ann Kuster (NH), Patrick Murphy (FL), Gerald Connolly (VA), John Delaney (MD), Jim Himes (CT), Scott Peters (CA), Denny Heck (WA) and drugged up mess Pete Aguilar (CA). Meanwhile, the House Liberty Caucus led the opposition and 20 Republicans joined 81 Democrats in voting against the bill. 72 members-- 33 Republicans and 39 Democrats-- weren't able to vote on the bill at all, many because of air traffic delays.

Most, though not all of the progressives joined Pelosi in voting NO, including Raul Grijalva (AZ), Barbara Lee (CA), Matt Cartwright (PA), Mark Pocan (WI), Judy Chu (CA), Donna Edwards (MD), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ), John Conyers (MI), Mike Honda (CA), and John Lewis (GA). After the vote, Mark Pocan of Madison told us why he and many of his colleagues opposed the legislation. "This bill significantly expands mandatory minimum sentences. We are talking about ruining people’s lives with 20 year mandatory sentences without really thinking through the real issues of the war on drugs. Many of us in Washington are desperately trying to find ways to reform our criminal justice system and rectify the devastating effects of drug addiction, and adding these synthetic drugs as Schedule I is missing the larger point."

Similarly, Donna Edwards told us she sees the bill as "a sad step backwards at a time that the nation should be focused on reforms that roll back the flawed policies of mandatory minimum sentencing that contributed to mass incarceration. The bill adds 22 synthetic drugs to the federal schedule that could result in the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. The problem of drug abuse that is so destructive to families and communities must be met with smart, fair, and balanced policies that invest in treatment rather than more incarceration."

The companion bill in the Senate was proposed by noted anti-civil libertarians Chuck Grassley and Chuck Schumer. Among the House Republicans more enlightened about how the criminal justice system is evolving than the very involved Schumer, not to mention Grassley, were pretty far right members of Congress like Dave Brat (VA), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Jason Chaffetz (UT), Mark Sanford (SC), Barry Loudermilk (GA), Mick Mulvaney (SC), Justin Amash (MI), Tom McClintock (CA), Raul Labrador (ID), Scott Garrett (NJ) and Mo Brooks (AL), not exactly "bleeding heart liberals."

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