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It's time for judges and lawyers to say publicly what many have said
privately for years --- the state's drug laws are out of whack and must be

Fred Noland, president of the King County Bar Association, has invited
leaders of the legal community to join a task force on drug laws. King
County Prosecutor Norm Maleng should be at the table.

Washington's drug sentencing laws have been demogogued to the point of
injustice. An addict who supports his habit by pointing willing buyers to
dealers on the street faces a minimum of 21 months in prison. That's the
same sentence faced for a first-degree arson or vehicular homicide. It's a
harsher sentence than given to someone guilty of a drive-by shooting or
sexually molesting a 12-year-old. If the same addict supported his habit by
breaking into your home and stealing jewelry, he'd get three months in jail.

Worse, political lemmings in Olympia have been led to believe threat of
prison will somehow overcome the effects of addiction. That line of
thinking has resulted in distortions in state sentencing laws. A person
with a prior felony conviction for a non-violent drug crime gets a longer
prison term than persons with prior convictions for many property crimes,
and even assaults.

For instance, a second conviction for cocaine delivery will send the addict
to prison for a minimum of 36 months. You can beat up and rob a little old
lady and get less time than that. The second conviction for second-degree
assault - breaking someone's nose, for example --- has a sentence range of
only 12 to 14 months.

No wonder the state's prison population is growing. Between 1989 and 1999,
prison admissions increased 93 percent. That compares to a 22 percent
increase in the total state population. Sending non-violent drug offenders
to prison instead of jail or treatment is a big factor in this staggering
increase. Now, drug crime offenders make up the largest single category of
the prison population, 21.5 percent.

Noland thinks the highly touted national war on drugs is a lost cause. He's
right. He's called for lawyers, judges and treatment professionals to come
up with new, fairer and more effective strategies. Some of the more liberal
King County judges already have signed on. What's needed is the
participation of moderates and conservatives from the bench, bar, and
especially, law enforcement. Involvement by someone of Maleng's stature and
reputation would bring greater credibility to this important effort.

Police chiefs and prosecutors across the state should welcome this nascent
effort. It's time for reasonable people to take back the drug laws.
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
MAP posted-by: GD

Newshawk: Amanda
Pubdate: Tue, 12 Dec 2000
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2000 The Seattle Times Company
Contact: opinion@seatimes.com
Address: P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111
Fax: (206) 382-6760
Website: The Seattle Times | Local news, sports, business, politics, entertainment, travel, restaurants and opinion for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.