Dear Representative Edwards:
Until recently, I had supported your campaign to become Louisiana Governor. I commend you for your service in the Louisiana House of Representatives and your courageous advocacy on behalf of the tens of thousands of school teachers from all corners of our great state. I am also personally very grateful for the ways in which you have continued to expose Governor Jindal’s hypocrisy on Medicaid expansion. Regretfully, I will no longer be able to vote for you in the upcoming gubernatorial election. As I have recently discovered, you and Representative Franklin Foil, a Republican from Baton Rouge, have co-authored and are introducing House Bill 103. This act, if signed into law, would dramatically increase the mandatory minimum sentences for citizens convicted of “possession with the intent to distribute” Schedule One narcotics. Although this list does not include most of the well-known illicit drugs, like marijuana, it’s still rather exhaustive. According to this proposed law, you will now be locked up for most of your adult life if you possess (Quoting):
That’s quite a laundry list of scary-sounding chemical compounds and drugs, Representative Edwards. The law won’t solve anything, though.
As you may know, “intent to distribute” in Louisiana doesn’t require the government actually prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, “intent to distribute;” it merely allows prosecutors the ability to up-charge drug offenders if they are caught in possession of more than they could reasonably consume individually, in one sitting.
Louisiana’s drug laws are antiquated and draconian, and our prisons have become the overcrowded “prison capital of the world” precisely because of laws that treat drug offenders and addicts retributively instead of focusing on rehabilitation.
Mr. Edwards, the law you propose would quadruple the mandatory minimums for drug possessors from five years to twenty years, without the possibility of probation for at least five years. Your proposed law destroys entire families- men, women, children, parents, and grandchildren- simply because someone the government didn’t like had an excess supply of plant byproducts and pharmaceuticals. We need to figure out a better way to respond to drug crimes because locking people up for two decades and destroying careers and marriages and families, it perpetuates disease, dysfunction, and addiction. Five year mandatory sentences are already absurd; twenty year sentences likely violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as enshrined in the eighth amendment.
Yesterday, Texas Gubernatorial candidate State Senator Wendy Davis inspired many when she announced to the Daily Morning News her support for medical marijuana, a position that has recently been embraced by high-profile Republican Governors, including Rick Perry, Chris Christie, and most surprisingly, Bobby Jindal. Senator Davis went a step forward and implied that, if elected Governor, she would consider decriminalization for small amounts intended for personal, recreational use, like the States of Colorado and Washington recently approved in statewide referenda. Quoting from Senator Davis:
Follow-up question: Had a bill gone to the Senate to decrease criminal provisions for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would you have voted for it?
Davis: “Yes, I would have.”
Another follow-up: If the Legislature were to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, to let the people decide marijuana legalization, as they did in Colorado and Washington, how would you vote, as a private citizen?
Davis: “I don’t know yet. I want to wait and see what happens in Colorado. I have a daughter who lives in Denver. I think there are some challenges to that law that are presented to law enforcement. In Denver they’re already talking about that, based on my conversations with my daughter, a week or so ago.
“When you stop someone who’s drunk driving, you can easily do a test to make a determination that that’s the case. When you stop someone you believe is driving under the influence of too much marijuana, what is the ability to conduct that same sort of analysis, and do you accidentally ensnare someone who really isn’t under the influence but yesterday smoked marijuana, and it’s still in their blood stream? These are some unique questions and challenges.
“From a philosophical position, do I have any objections to the fact that citizens might want to legalize marijuana? No, I don’t. But I think watching to see how this experiment plays out in other states is probably advisable before I could tell you for sure.”
Final follow-up question: If you were elected governor and the Legislature sent you a bill that made possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil matter, rather than a minor criminal offense, would you sign it?
Davis: “I would consider it.”
These are all responsible, informed, nuanced answers from an Ivy League-educated attorney who seems to have full grasp on the complexity of the situation, and Mr. Edwards, with all due respect, I hope that you recognize the validity of these arguments. Generations of Louisianians, particularly and disproportionately poor, African-Americans, have had their lives ruined and their families broken apart because of these grossly unfair drug laws. Quoting from your proposed law, Mr. Edwards:
Abstract: Increases the minimum mandatory incarceration penalty for Schedule I narcotic drugs.
Present law provides penalties for the production, manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled dangerous substance, or for the possession with the intent to produce, manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled dangerous substance, which is a narcotic drug, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than five nor more than 50 years at hard labor at least five years of which shall be served without benefit of probation, or suspension of sentence, and may, in addition, be required to pay a fine of not more than $50,000.
Proposed law increases the minimum mandatory penalty from five years to 20 years.
(Amends R.S. 40:966(B)(1))
Why do we need any more draconian drug laws? Why are we crowding our prisons with career-inmates who- let’s face it- are guilty, almost exclusively, of consensual crimes? Addiction may be a lucrative business, but after generations of incarcerating dealers and addicts, we have only made things worse. The definition of insanity, remember, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Addiction does not end if we simply quarantine all of the drug dealers and force them to wear orange jumpsuits and stare at barbed wire fences for decades, America’s prison-industrial complex.
I am not giving up on you entirely, Mr. Edwards, but I can’t support any candidate- in any party, in any election- who thinks that uniformly locking up heroin dealers for a minimum of twenty years is a legitimate solution or a valid law.
When I first read of your involvement in this bill, I asked if it was a joke. If it is, I’m still waiting for the punchline.
All the best,