- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

The nation is uniformly upset about drug abuse and its consequences, but divided about what to do with drug pushers and users, a first-of-its-kind study says.
Although states constitute the front lines in the war on drugs, the study shows their laws differ wildly, as does the seriousness with which they regard drug dealing and substance abuse.
The report by a prominent team of substance-abuse specialists also points out that, contrary to common belief, states commonly ignore federal anti-drug approaches for dealing with such substances as cocaine, methamphetamine and the hugely popular "club drugs" such as Ecstasy.
"The report is the only comprehensive, standardized assessment of laws across the nation," said Dr. J. Michael McGinnis, a senior vice president at the Johnson Foundation.
He said it is significant "because it provides a tool that will help in determining for the first time what works and what fails in dealing with substance abuse."
The 140-page report is titled "Illicit Drug Policies: Selected Laws From the 50 States." It was produced by a team of economists, psychologists, sociologists, lawyers, epidemiologists and others as part of a continuing anti-drug program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and run by the University of Ilinois at Chicago.
The document explains that each state establishes a "schedule," meaning a comparative evaluation of the various drugs' perceived danger and medical value. Each state also has statutes that set penalties for the sale and possession of banned substances. And importantly, state officials prosecute the vast majority of drug-related crimes.
The study points out that: "The maximum statutory penalty for the sale of a standard retail amount of cocaine, methamphetamine, or Ecstasy ranges from one year of imprisonment to life in prison."
For instance, a drug offender hauled before a North Carolina court and charged with selling 1 gram of cocaine would face a maximum sentence of a year in prison. The same offender on trial for the same offense in Montana could be fined $50,000 and jailed for life.
In Minnesota, a person caught holding 10 grams of methamphetamine would be looking at the possibility of a $500,000 fine and a 25-year prison sentence. The same person standing before a Virginia court for the identical offense could expect a maximum sentence of $1,000 and six months in the lockup.
Federal law declares marijuana is an illicit substance and makes no exception for its use as a medicine. However, 24 states and the District have enacted a provision that skirts the ban, and some states have enacted more than one exception to the law.
Fourteen states permit Therapeutic Research Programs, in effect allowing patients enrolled in a research program to use the drug. Three states make marijana a legal medication, 11 allow doctors to prescribe the drug and seven allow patients accused of abusing the drug to plead medical necessity.
In recent years the drug called Ecstasy or "E" has grown immensely in popularity despite increasingly dire medical warnings of its dangerous effects. It is commonly used by youngsters at "raves," or all-night dances, and even by grade-school children.
However, drug-study researchers revealed yesterday at a news conference that 11 states have not banned the substance, which is said to have no medical uses and which has been banned by the federal government. Among states that do ban the drug, penalties for possession of a single pill range from $5,000 to $1 million and anywhere from a year to life in jail, said Rosalie Pacula, a Rand researcher and co-author of the study.
Additionally, federal law makes a giant distinction between cocaine powder, which is typically sniffed or snorted and more dangerous crack, the street name given to cocaine that has been specially processed for smoking. Only 11 states have created separate penalties for possessing or selling crack and cocaine powder.
Such differences matter for many reasons, said Miss Pacula, and not least is that they show "offenders processed for similar crimes in different state courts are subject to different standards."


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