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Drug Sentencing Gets Stricter Under Trump

The Trump administration's Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is directing prosecutors to return to strict sentencing for small crimes. It's a reversal of the previous administration's course--in 2013, Eric Holder reduced the use of mandatory minimums. Now, Sessions is urging prosecutors to charge people with, and obtain convictions for, the most serious crime provable within any specific case.

The War on Drugs

The current administration's attitude harks back to President Nixon's "war on drugs" and its massive increase in prison and law enforcement spending. The war on drugs was never won. Meanwhile, funding shifted toward incarceration and away from rehabilitation. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act signed by President Reagan would create mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. And now, the current administration is reviving that same.

The case of the Texas trucker

David Lopez, a 56-year-old trucker, was caught while in possession of marijuana. Federal prosecutors said he had been trucking pot around the country from El Paso for years. Lopez also had a connection with drug busts in several states.

Lopez is a Texan, a trucker, and the owner of multiple trucking companies. He was caught when he attempted to hire an undercover federal drug enforcement agent as a drug delivery driver.

Lopez could have received anywhere between 10 years and life in federal prison. On June 2, 2017, David Lopez got slammed with more than 24 years in federal prison. The long sentence was brought about by the prosecution's use of federal rules that command mandatory minimums for conspiracy charges in drug cases. Prosecutors also argued for a strict sentence based on Lopez's criminal history, including a 1995 felony conviction for pot possession in Missouri. 

Bad timing, long sentences

This case began before Jeff Sessions came onto the scene. With better timing, Lopez would have likely received a shorter sentence as a nonviolent offender. But Lopez's ultimate sentence has essentially created a marijuana lifer. And he's not alone: an increasing portion of the prison population is serving what amount to life sentences over marijuana convictions. And this is happening even as a string of states begin to decriminalize and even legalize the use and sale of pot.   

Meanwhile, Texas continues to punish the possession and use of weed. And there will be many punishments to come, some for people who don't know they are dealing with outlawed substances. For drug technology is expanding, regularly creating new drugs. We can expect Texas to be the setting of many more illustrations of a state in synch with the current federal administration's punitive climate.

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