Drug War

Former Drug Czar: There's No Such Thing As an Unjust Drug Sentence

According to John Walters, all drug offenders are violent.


Hudson Institute

In a recent Forbes column, I noted that President Obama will have to pick up the pace of his commutations if he hopes to make up for lost time and "correct as many injustices as possible," which is what his spokesman says he plans to do. According to former drug czar John Walters, Obama has not delivered on that promise yet because there aren't any injustices to correct. In a Weekly Standard essay titled "Deals for Dealers and the Phony Charge of 'Broken Justice,'" Walters and David Murray, who used to work with him at the Office of National Drug Control Policy and now works with him at the Hudson Institute, argue that the problem is not presidential inattention or Justice Department resistance but a lack of worthy candidates for clemency:

It looks more and more as if, even under very forgiving criteria and White House political pressure, finding authentic victims of mass incarceration has proven an elusive quest.

Does the Clemency Project simply need more time and lawyers to sift the evidence, or is it possible that the model of "low-level, non-violent, and unjustly slammed" federal inmates is not criminal justice reality?

The DOJ's commutation criteria are not "very forgiving." To the contrary, they are needlessly strict. Prisoners who have not served at least 10 years (even if that is the entirety of their sentence) are out of luck. So are inmates who have "a significant criminal history," gang ties, or less than stellar prison records. If the aim is to correct unjust sentences, those additional criteria make no sense. It should be enough that someone is serving a sentence longer than he would get under current law, which is the case with thousands of federal prisoners. For that matter, limiting commutations to "low-level" offenders is illogical, since "high-level" or "mid-level" offenders may also be serving excessively long sentences. In fact, we know they are, based on a subsequent decision by Congress to impose less severe punishment on crack dealers.

As far as Walters and Murray are concerned, however, there is no such thing as an excessive drug sentence. They complain that the 46 prisoners whose sentences Obama shortened last week are "overwhelmingly serious cocaine and methamphetamine drug traffickers, as are almost all federal drug inmates." They add that "even a glance at their listed offenses shows such things as weapons use and, in at least two instances, holding five kilograms of cocaine."

A longer glance reveals that seven of the prisoners possessed guns, but that does not mean they brandished them, let alone fired them. Mere possession is enough to be convicted of using a gun "during and in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime," which triggers a five-year mandatory minimum for the first offense. That jumps to 25 years for subsequent offenses, and the sentences must be served consecutively. The upshot is that a small-time, nonviolent drug dealer who owns a gun can get a stiffer sentence than a rapist or a murderer. Nope, nothing broken there.

If you spend more than a few seconds looking at the latest batch of commutations, you will also see that four of the prisoners (which is indeed "at least two") were convicted of offenses involving more than five kilograms of cocaine, but only one was convicted of possessing that amount. The rest were convicted of conspiring to distribute more than five kilograms. A conspiracy charge does not necessarily indicate that the defendant played an important role in a drug trafficking organization. Telisha Watkins, who received a 20-year mandatory minimum, was convicted of participating in a cocaine conspiracy because she connected a confidential informant with a dealer, even though she never touched the drugs.

In any case, the prisoners to whom Walters and Murray are referring received sentences ranging from 20 years to life and have already served 10 years or more. How long a sentence do they think is appropriate for engaging in consensual transactions involving arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants? I think we know the answer: whatever sentence legislators decide to impose, even if they later change their minds.

To be clear, Walters and Murray do not think there is any reason for members of Congress to consider further changes to federal sentencing rules. After all, they say, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys opposes sentencing reform. It turns out that federal prosecutors like the tremendous leverage that mandatory minimums give them. Walters and Murray say the ability to threaten defendants who dare to insist on their right to trial with jaw-dropping prison terms is "a crucial tool for driving successful prosecutions" and "critical for taking down violent large-scale criminal organizations." Whether those sentences are just is apparently beside the point.

In case you need further evidence of Walters and Murray's bad faith, they argue that there is no such thing as a nonviolent drug offender because "violence is inherent to drug trafficking." It would be more accurate to say violence is a predictable feature of the black market created by a prohibition policy that Walters and Murray both support. Leaving that point aside, they are saying it does not matter if the particular defendant a judge happens to be sentencing has never hurt a fly; he must pay for the crimes of others in his line of work. Anyway, Walters and Murray say, violence is not limited to "the direct violence of the criminal cartels"; it also includes "the death and destruction, the heroin overdoses, the crashed families, the epidemic impact, of drug use."

In other words, if I sell you heroin, and you die after injecting too much of it at once or (more likely) recklessly consuming it with other depressants, I may as well have murdered you. Likewise, presumably, if I sell you a bottle of whiskey and you die of acute alcohol poisoning after consuming it all in one sitting or from injuries sustained in a drunken car crash. Since Walters and Murray seem to think there is nothing wrong with a criminal justice system built on such false moral equations, they may not be the best people to consult about the fairness of the penalties that legislators pull out of their asses while in the throes of anti-drug hysteria. 

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  1. Feet first into the woodchipper with this dickhead.

  2. Ahhhh, life in the former land of the free. *Takes long breath*… SMELL that overcriminalized air!!!

  3. THIS JUST IN: Drug Czars Tend to be Zealots

    1. BREAKING NEWS: Cocksucker sucks cock!

      1. INSIGHTFUL ANALYSIS: Drug Czars are cocksuckers.

  4. Come see the violence inherent in the system!

  5. “According to former drug czar John Walters, Obama has not delivered on that promise yet because there aren’t any injustices to correct”

    A piece of shit with a God complex, eh?

    To the woodchipper!

    1. These thoughts are very unlike Norm Stamper, a former cop from the Seattle area, who was one of the original founders of LEAP. Even in the same setting, two similarly employed individuals have a very different view on our drug laws. One must wonder why. I would submit that Mr Stamper has compassion and morals that seem to be completely absent from his drug czar!

      1. OOPS! Mr Walters was not the ex-Seattle cop who served as the last drug car. The lack of compassion and morality still applies, though. Then again, it is compassion selectively applied or morality that feels it should pronounce judgements on everyone.

    2. Woodchipper, my ass.


  6. The overwhelming, indisputable success of Portugal’s approach to drugs must drive these true believer drug warriors apoplectic. We have 15 years of data on a 10M+ sample country and results are near zero statistical drug overdose deaths and decreased infectious disease transmissions from drug use.


    1. yeah, but portugal also has really, really high unemployment (13.7%) .

      I agree Portugal is a fine example on this, but drug warriors are going to come back with correlations such as the one above and use it to block their ears to rational argument.

      1. In Portugal it is still illegal to sell drugs. Thus, there is still a significant black market that provides the supply and ’employs’ many people. If these people could be in the open perhaps the unemployment number would be quite a bit lower.

      2. Yes, Portugal has problems. Being a minor economy in the eurozone is one of them… Drugs aren’t.

      3. They might have a point if we recognized “prisoner” as a job title. It’s possible to hold down a job and be a recreational user; likely, even, if you count alcohol. It’s not possible to hold down a job from prison.

        1. What’s license plate stamping, chopped liver?

          1. “What’s license plate stamping, chopped liver?”

            Slave labor?

      4. What does its high unemployment rate have to do with the relative success of its decriminalizing drugs? Second, do you know what our true I unemployment rate is??

  7. Prisoners who have not served at least 10 years (even if that is the entirety of their sentence) are out of luck.

    You’re not a real victim until you’re ten years a victim.

    1. That describes most marriages.

  8. Anyway, Walters and Murray say, violence is not limited to “the direct violence of the criminal cartels”; it also includes “the death and destruction, the heroin overdoses, the crashed families, the epidemic impact, of drug use.”

    Fuck these “crashed families” every moment of every day of every year their existence has added to these penalties. They do not own their family members’ lives; it is none of their business if their family members prefer drugs to their company.

    1. Nothing fixes a crashed family like sending a member to prison for a decade or two.

    2. ^^THIS! According to this logic, adultery should be a felony. I would bet adultery destroys more families than cocaine or heroin.

      1. Not just adultery, but also alienation of affection.

        1. AOF is still a crime in NC.

        2. If we had stricter border controls it wouldn’t be a problem.

          /unclear on the concept

      2. or just being an asshole. how many family picnics are ruined because someone is an asshole.

        1. All of them.

        2. All of them.

          1. Great minds. 😉

            1. We should bookmark this in case some fool accuses us of sock-puppetry of one another: See, here we are posting at exactly the same time, now flock off. 😉

              1. Clearly you were using a script to automatically post your responses simultaneously.

          2. Only for the adults! The family reunions that I attended were when I was still in grade school! Too young for the adults to ruin it. But, we never, ever, had to leave early!

    3. They’ve got cause and effect reversed. Fucked up families cause drug addiction not the other way around.

      1. Sending the drug addict to prison for decades probably fixes the family in a jiffy!

        1. Exactly, my man, there’s no relationship problem that can’t be improved by a long jail sentence!
          /College title IX Inquisition

          1. …..(;-P

  9. Drug laws are how those with power weed out the people who do not unthinkingly obey authority. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s a matter of obedience. Those who use and sell drugs are disrespecting authority. That is their crime. And as we all know, that carries a potential death sentence.

    1. With the exception of friends and family of the Top Men, who always get a pass for crimes that would send us lowly peons to the hoosegow. Laws are only for us little people.

    2. Put that cigarette out.

  10. Let me recommend: “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs” by Johann Hari to anyone interested in how the drug war started, and more importantly, how drug prohibitions have ‘worked’ over the years. This is a new book with a chapter on the Portugal experiment and one on the Colorado-Washington laws.

    I’ve been following this topic for 45 years and this book is the best I’ve read as far as showing with specific examples how the drug war has played out for the various participants.

  11. “the death and destruction, the alcohol overdoses, the crashed families, the epidemic impact, of alcohol use.” Tried to prohibit. Colossal failure. Probably the single worst drug on this list.

    “the death and destruction, the opium overdoses, the crashed families, the epidemic impact, of opium use.” Opium dens were supposedly the scourge of late 19th century San Francisco.
    Maybe if we all went to an opium den once a week, we would be alot mellower and happier!

    “the death and destruction, the marijuana overdoses, the crashed families, the epidemic impact, of marijuana use.” Literally no ODs for marijuana. Kills a few brain cells (probably less than alcohol), doesn’t make people violent. Worst side effect: the munchies. Still schedule I.

    “the death and destruction, the oxycodone overdoses, the crashed families, the epidemic impact, of prescription painkiller use.” One of the greatest medical discoveries the ability to ease pain. Now is schedule II because we are all just rats who will all keep hitting the pill bar for more until we die.

    1. Cannabis grows brain cells. As do most anti-depressants.

  12. What jailer believes he holds a man who should be released?
    What power junky does not lust for still more power?

    A wood chipper is too kindly a fate.

    1. what chipper thinks wood should remain unchipped?

      1. To a woodchipper, everything looks like wood.

        1. There is a “your mom” joke in here somewhere with your name on it. Just sayin’.

          1. Not to put too fine a point on it.

      2. The one that won’t start cause the ethanol mandates fucked its engine.

      3. How many cumps would a woodchipper chip if a woodchipper could chip cumps.

  13. Seriously, the galling depravity of this guy and people who think like him is shocking. How do they go to sleep at night? If they believe in one, how will they explain themselves to their Creator?

    1. I recall Bill Bennet saying there are no first time drug offenders, just repeat offenders that haven’t been caught.
      The worst of the worse are those who use drugs without apparent problems.

      1. He embodies everything that is wrong with the drug warriors. He is intelligent and actually quite personable. He is cool with gambling, even when he was in the hole for millions. He is cool with drinking alcohol. But if a person’s particular vice runs afoul of his morality (i.e. porn or weed) watch out!

  14. Is it beyond the pale, to wish these men a good solid case of pancreatic cancer and a complete inability to find a pain specialist willing to risk his license?

    1. Amen

    2. I suspect bone cancer would be longer and more painful.

  15. Mere possession is enough to be convicted of using

    Words: They no longer have meaning.

  16. The Weekly Standard is opposed to commutations? Color me shocked.

    1. The Standard stands for nothing but increased power of the government of the United States. Whether at home or abroad. While also advocating for a smaller tax burden…they were cheerleaders of Bush II’s deficit spending ways. The only way to reconcile these beliefs is to remember that Billy Kristol is a fucking idiot.

      1. But I really liked him on ‘Soap’.

  17. Perhaps it would be helpful to have a Laboratory of Democracy experiment where, in one state, all of the precepts of drug decriminalization espoused in theory in Reason are put into effect.
    After 10-20 years, a proper evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of that program can be made.

    1. *cough* Portugal?

  18. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,.,.,.,.,


  19. The insanity here is that real crimes like burglary and robbery are met with plea bargaining to “slap on the wrist” levels (at least given the desert), but the amorphous drug crimes are given long sentences.

    Both sides illustrate how crazy it is. There will be no stings, patrols, undercover agents or investigations so thieves and robbers will get away with their crimes most of the time, then when they do get caught, they aren’t held to account. The effort for drugs is overzealous, intrusive, and unconstitutional, and the punishments excessive.

    If someone wants to take drugs and not cause either danger or nuisance (except to himself), he should be left alone to do so.

    If someone goes out and does violence or property crimes, THEN don’t plea bargain and hand out proper (you might say harsh, but I would say deserved) sentences.

    Reverse the aspects. Put policing and sentences on the violence. Remove them from the drugs.

  20. I think you mean moral equivocations rather than equations.

  21. Spoken like a totalitarian.

  22. Shouldn’t John Walters be making that comment about alcohol, the most violence-causing drug merely from its use and not from its legal status? Well, once an anti-rightist, always an anti-rightist.

  23. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

  24. The only thing I know of that’s always violent is government.

  25. The former drug czar is wrong. Here are two unreasonable and unjust drug sentences:
    16. The term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound,
    manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.
    Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.
    They can be replaced by just one reasonable sentence which obviously conforms to the Necessary and Proper clause, and matches the Supreme Court’s limited interpretation of the definition of marijuana:
    16. The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L.
    This year is a good time to contact your Congress-persons to enact this definition of marijuana which actually shows respect for our Constitution.

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