Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Perry's Criminal Justice Speech At Economic Forum

In late January, Gov. Rick Perry was the only Governor for a US State to participate in the World Economic Forum. There he made remarks regarding Texas judicial reforms in the prosecution of drug-related crimes.

Some have taken his remarks out of the full context. Among the panels Perry participated in was one of how criminal justice affects businesses and economic policies. The specific topic given for the panel was "The Drugs Dilemma: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business".

Here is a video of the entire hour-long panel discussion. Hear Governor Perry's words for yourself, in context and outside of a venue of edited sound-bytes for effect.

Of his remarks and Texas's approach towards the "war on drugs", Gov. Perry made the following statement:

"We've been very successful in the state of Texas with drug courts. States are laboratories of innovation, and I hope the other states will look at what we have done in the State of Texas."

In times when many debate medical uses for some illicit drugs such as marijuana, many have called for legalization or, at least, decriminalization of the drug.

Scientific evidence has demonstrated legitimate and safe medical uses for marijuana just as there are legitimate medical uses for other controlled substances that are legal for use with a prescription. Just like with those drugs, there are side-effects and risks to use or abuse of medical marijuana. For example, use by people under 25 has been linked to schizophrenia and aggravation of manic-depressive and anxiety disorders. However, for people with terminal illnesses, it is known to be a safer alternative for pain management than some legal drugs that are more commonly prescribed.

Illicit trafficking of marijuana, like heroin, is linked to other crimes. Among those crimes are human trafficking, sex slavery, indentured servitude, gun smuggling, and cross-border organized crime (including murder). Legalizing marijuana may cut down on some of that crime. However, smugglers may just turn towards more dangerous items to smuggle, including kidnapping and trafficking our children. That presents a shaky road for many lawmakers.

Conversely, a 23 year old stopped on a street corner who unknowingly consents to a search that turns up possession of two marijuana cigarettes should not result in long-term incarceration. In fact, these days, given the age, many see the infraction to be less severe than an 18 year old with a beer in his backpack.

Certain mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana possession are probably too high. They can severely inhibit a person's opportunity to prosper. Most likely, the 23 year old doesn't know the people involved in trafficking the drug. Most likely, he knows as small-time dealer or "hook-up" who doesn't know much either. In some cases the supplier may be a buddy with a single plant growing in his back yard. That hardly makes that person a large, organized crime boss.

To fight the war on illicit trafficking requires efforts targeting well above the end-user level. Prisons are overpopulated with kids caught with barely a casual user's amount of the drug. If it were an 18 year old with a single beer, many cops would just make the kid pour it out into the street rather than deal with the paperwork. Common sense solutions should be considered in dealing with casual, responsible users. On the other hand, if that 23 year old were baked, behind the wheel, and headed home to take care of 3 year old child, it becomes a whole different level of irresponsible behavior.

In other words, the sentences should reflect the severity and context of the crime. This is where minimum sentences could be sensibly restructured.