The Daily Gamecock

Minimum sentencing laws hurt poor, youth

Sen. Rand Paul’s comments show need for reforming US marijuana laws

Sen. Rand Paul routinely offends both Republicans and Democrats with his very public Libertarian beliefs, but in a recent interview on Fox News, he defended both President Barack Obama’s and former President George W. Bush’s adolescent encounters with cannabis.

The Republican Kentucky senator was using our presidents as examples of why our mandatory minimum sentencing laws should be changed.

Paul proposed a hypothetical situation in which the two men who have held the most important job in the country ruined their bright futures after being caught possessing and using marijuana.
“Look what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky … They go to jail for these things. And I think it’s a big mistake,” he said.

Thanks to recent advances in legalization around the country, more politicians have been able to take a stance on legalization, but Paul is addressing issues beyond the monetary benefits of legalization. In 2011, 757,969 people were arrested for marijuana possession or trafficking. After legislation like the Stop and Frisk law in New York City, even more people have been charged for marijuana-related charges, and even more people are sent to prison.

While marijuana is still a criminalized drug, it shouldn’t be ranked along with drugs like heroine, cocaine or crack. Scientific evidence shows how those drugs destroy the body, yet marijuana has been seen aiding in treatment for many different illnesses as it can help relieve pain, control nausea and stimulate appetite. The most damage smoking cannabis has been shown to incur on the body is minimal lung damage due to residual tar and a growling stomach.

America’s current 75-year ban on cannabis is slowly lifting, state by state and law by law. Congressional newspaper The Hill noted that in Paul’s recent Fox News interview he introduced a bill “that would relax the mandatory minimum sentences handed out to marijuana offenders who do not pose a violent threat to the public.”

Marijuana has often been classified as a gateway drug, but maybe it’s more accurate to call it a revolving door drug, since most prisoners’ track records start with a minimum sentence for cannabis and escalate over the years. Trying to establish a new and changed life after the mandatory minimum sentences is daunting by the vastly different views on marijuana’s criminology in prison and outside of it. The difference between these two worlds needs to be leveled for the judicial system to use prison for changing criminal actions.

When young people are being stopped and frisked and sent away with unnecessarily strict punishment for a relatively harmless drug, their futures often get locked away too. Youths with this nonviolent crime should receive a little more forgiveness for their adolescent mistakes.