- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

Soft on drug use and possession

Alan Reynolds’ column “Let judges use judgment” (Commentary, Jan. 23) raises valid concerns about the need for Congress to exercise prudence as it examines federal sentencing guidelines in the wake of the most recent Supreme Court rulings. At the same time, Congress should give careful reconsideration to the overall justification for such sentences, especially as applied to low-level drug offenders. Why are we handing out decade(s)-long sentences to people who are caught selling a few grams or ounces of marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy (MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine)? As one example, a 10-year prison sentence translates into much more than $250,000 in housing, food and health care that taxpayers are asked to foot to keep these offenders behind bars.

Drug abuse has its roots in a combination of physical, mental and spiritual problems. None of these are addressed by taking offenders and caging them in federal prisons for years — or in the case of many mandatory minimum sentences — decades. Despite the feds having jailed more than 1 million such offenders during the past 20 years, the demand for illicit drugs and the illegal trade that feeds it remains a constant.

Stern sentencing is likely worthy for criminals who pose a clear and demonstrable threat to the public. Simply being in possession of or selling a short list of politically incorrect substances, however, is not worthy of such resolutions. It’s urgent that Congress bear that in mind during upcoming discussions of how to rewrite the mandatory-minimum guidelines.

STEPHEN HEATH

Clearwater, Fla.

Your story (“Metro must accept pro-marijuana ads,” Metropolitan, Friday) about the Justice Department declining to appeal a court decision overturning a congressional amendment, which barred public transit systems from accepting paid ads supporting reform of laws regarding marijuana and other drugs — misstated one key point: The ads that reform groups such as ours have attempted to place are not “pro-marijuana.” They do not advocate use of marijuana or any other drug. They simply advocate reconsideration of marijuana laws that manifestly cause far more suffering and injury than marijuana itself.

We are not “pro-marijuana,” just as the mothers who campaigned to repeal Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s were not “pro-booze.” A system of common-sense regulation would give society control over the marijuana business. Prohibition — just as with alcohol — guarantees that we have no control and gives an exclusive franchise to gangsters and criminals. Attempts to stifle debate will not help America develop more effective laws and policies.

BRUCE MIRKEN

Director of communications

Marijuana Policy Project

Washington

Summers had it coming

Suzanne Fields is outraged at the negative reaction caused by the remarks made by Harvard President Lawrence Summers regarding the scarcity of women in scientific and engineering positions. (“Seeking diversity at Harvard,” Op-Ed, Monday). Mr. Summers attributed this underrepresentation to women having lesser innate abilities than men in these fields.

For Mrs. Fields to feel sorry for Mr. Summers’ behavior is to be out of touch with the discriminatory practices that have been prevalent in the history of this country. It was not too long ago that the norm in most households was for the husband to be the breadwinner and the wife to be the housekeeper. Naturally, the molding of women to play secondary roles started during the normative years of childhood. While Mrs. Fields indicated that Mr. Summers just tried to be provocative by examining the data compiled by those who study these topics, she doesn’t seem to realize that most of the studies were conducted by men.

Most of us are aware of the pernicious inclination of some people to explain group differences by relying on scientific studies. For example, differences in SAT scores between black and white Americans have been attributed to genetics. Is Mrs. Fields willing to believe these unscientific conclusions? Or, better still, is she willing to accept the proposition that because white men have been the sole occupants of the White House, this disparity must be based on the genetic inferiority of other Americans?

Addressing the usual nature vs. nurture arguments for gender differences has nothing to do with the outrage expressed at Mr. Summers’ remarks. Instead, it is based on the fact that Mr. Summers was out of line in making these remarks. First, he is a trained economist, not a scientist. Second, as president of Harvard, he has to be more careful about what he says because his target audience is much wider than scientists. Third, though there are scientific studies supporting his position, other studies reach the opposite conclusion. Finally, Mr. Summers is not qualified to speak about the discriminatory treatment women of this country have suffered.

If Mr. Summers expects to last as Harvard president, he had better take a remedial sensitivity course soon.

JORGE E. PONCE

Burke

Oil for food and reparations

A relatively unknown fact about the oil-for-food program was buried in an article (“Oil-food probe to ask more of Annan,” World) on page A13 Wednesday. We all knew that the funds raised through this program were to purchase food and medical supplies. However, I must have forgotten that part of the money was to be used to pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War. Please tell us who these “victims” were. I hope these funds went to reimburse Kuwait for the damage done to the oil wells set on fire by withdrawing Iraqis. However, I wonder if some of the funds were used to pay French contractors to construct palaces and underground bunkers for Saddam Hussein. Sounds like a good topic for investigative reporting.

ROBERT VAUGHAN

Towson, Md.

Head to come

Your story “Metro must accept pro-marijuana ads” (Metropolitan, Friday), about the Justice Department declining to appeal a court decision that overturned a congressional amendment barring public transit systems from accepting paid ads supporting reform of laws regarding marijuana and other drugs — misstated one key point: The ads that reform groups such as ours have attempted to place are not “pro-marijuana.” They do not advocate use of marijuana or any other drug. They simply advocate reconsideration of marijuana laws that manifestly cause far more suffering and injury than marijuana itself.

We are not “pro-marijuana,” just as the mothers who campaigned to repeal Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s were not “pro-booze.” A system of common-sense regulation would give society control over the marijuana business. Prohibition — just as with alcohol — guarantees that we have no control and gives an exclusive franchise to gangsters and criminals. Attempts to stifle debate will not help America develop more effective laws and policies.

BRUCE MIRKEN

Director of communications

Marijuana Policy Project

Washington

Dubious sex-ed debate

I want to respond to the article “Sex-ed courses called flawed” (Metropolitan, Wednesday) because it does not tell the whole story. It cites a recently “published” article by Warren Throckmorton critiquing the Montgomery County sex-ed curriculum. The article appears not to have been peer-reviewed or published in any medical, scientific or educational journal, which should make the public concerned about its value as a reputable resource. It seems to appear only on Mr. Throckmorton’s own Web site.

Michelle Turner, a parent working against the curriculum, is quoted as saying that most members of the committee that reviewed the materials “favor a pro-gay agenda.”

Rather, the committee favors tolerance for all people. She also says this curriculum will be taught at an “early age.” We are talking about eighth- and 10th-graders in Montgomery County — among the most sophisticated learners in the United States.

Surely there is not a student in those grades, or in several earlier grades, who does not already know about homosexuality. Let’s not pretend we are telling these teens about something new or shocking.

ANDREA R. KLINE

Silver Spring

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