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Prison Sentences for Drug Possession and Trafficking

One of the most disturbing and saddening aspects of drug addiction is the very real threat of being arrested and incarcerated under severe sentences. In many cases people who are convicted of drug crimes are actually only low-level drug users and traffickers that are compelled to engage in this behavior by their addictions. This is troubling because it seems apparent that instead of incarcerating these people a better solution might be drug addiction treatment. Until attitudes concerning drug abuse and addiction change, the laws in the US will remain the same, and addicts face the significant threats discussed below.

A person who is arrested for possession of 5 grams of marijuana in the state of New Hampshire will not receive the same sentence as a person in Texas convicted of the same crime. This is because drug laws vary considerably from locality to locality and state to state. In fact, state drug laws are different than federal laws and in many cases it can be hard to determine where the lines between a federal drug crime and a state-level drug crime cross. This means that some people will be unfairly punished for their crimes:

“There are 30 women serving life sentences in Kansas prisons. Twenty-nine of them are convicted murderers or kidnappers. The other is Gloria Van Winkle. Her crime was possessing one-sixteenth of an ounce of cocaine, equivalent to less than two artificial sweetener packets. She has been locked up since 1992, and she won’t get to see the parole board for the first time until 2007.” (1)

Sentences like these are becoming more and more common as a result of mandatory sentencing laws, which affect both possession and trafficking crimes. Mandatory sentencing means that a judge cannot be lenient with sentencing or take mitigating circumstances into consideration – there is no exception under mandatory minimum laws. These sentences are severe enough, but they also double in certain situations. According to a 2000 article for Drug Watch International by David Riley – then-Assistant US Attorney for Illinois;

“In the federal system, there are two levels of mandatory minimums, with each level doubling for defendants with prior convictions. The first tier requires a minimum sentence of imprisonment for five years (10 with a prior felony drug conviction), and the second tier requires a minimum of 10 years (20 with one prior felony drug conviction, and mandatory life with two such prior convictions).” (2)

However, these sentences for drug possession and drug trafficking can be even worse in some cases:

“The penalties for drug trafficking will be enhanced if the drugs are sold to or distributed by minors or the drugs are handled in a school zone or other protected area.” (3)

The most troubling part of these stiff penalties for drug crimes is that the disease of addiction causes addicts to be unable to properly weigh the consideration of getting their fix versus potential criminal punishment: the addiction will win nearly every time. In fact, one of the key behaviors used to diagnose addiction is continuation despite significant consequences.

If you or someone you love is suffering from a drug problem, the time to reach out for help is now. Please call the number at the top of your screen for a free, confidential consultation with one of our addictions experts. Don’t bear this risk any longer – call now.

(1) Rizzo, Tony Inmate’s Sentence for Drug Possession Called Excessive The Kansas City Star 06/06/1999

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More