February 28, 1999
The War on Drugs Retreats, Still Taking Prisoners
By TIMOTHY EGAN
VICTORVILLE, Calif. -- Every 20 seconds, someone in the United States is arrested for a drug violation. Every week, on average, a new jail or prison is built to lock up more people in the world's largest penal system.
It was not always so. Ten years ago, half as many people were arrested for drug crimes, and the nation's incarceration rate was closer to those of other democracies. But in the 1980s crack cocaine scared the country, and the criminal justice system has never been the same.
Crack poisoned many communities. Dealers turned neighborhoods into drug markets. As heavily armed gangs fought over turf, murder rates shot up. Authorities warned that crack was instantly addictive and spreading rapidly, and predicted that a generation of crack babies would bear the drug's imprint. It looked like a nightmare with no end.
But for all the havoc wreaked by crack, the worst fears were not realized. Crack appealed mainly to hard-core drug users. The number of crack users began falling not long after surveys began counting them. A decade later, the violence of the crack trade has burned out, and murder rates have plunged.
Yet crack left its mark, in ways that few people anticipated. Crack prompted the nation to rewrite its drug laws, lock up a record number of people and shift money from schools to prisons. It transformed police work, hospitals, parental rights, courts.
Crack also changed the racial makeup of U.S. prisons. More whites than blacks use crack, according to surveys, but as the war on drugs focused on poor city neighborhoods, blacks went to prison at a far higher rate. In California, five black men are behind bars for each one in a state university.
But the harsh laws responding to crack have not reduced overall drug use. And now the ceaseless march of new drug offenders and the mounting costs of prisons are moving some of the people charged with enforcing the punitive laws to question the assumptions behind them.
"We have a failed social policy and it has to be re-evaluated," said Barry McCaffrey, the four-star general who heads the National Drug Control Policy Office. "Otherwise, we're going to bankrupt ourselves. Because we can't incarcerate our way out of this problem."
More than a quarter-million Americans in prison for drug offenses could be better dealt with in treatment programs, he said, saving up to $5 billion a year.
Since 1985 the nation's jail and prison population has grown 130 percent, and it will soon pass 2 million, even as crime rates continue a six-year decline. No country has more people behind bars, and only one, Russia, has a higher incarceration rate, according to the Sentencing Project, which tracks prison rates.
Behind the increase is a national get-tough mood that has produced longer sentences for all criminals and the end of parole in many states. Polls show that most Americans favor lengthy terms for violent criminals.
But perhaps the biggest single factor is the systematic jailing of drug offenders. In the first 10 years after Congress toughened drug laws in response to crack, the number of people imprisoned for drugs grew more than 400 percent, nearly twice the growth rate for violent criminals. More people are behind bars for drug offenses in the United States -- about 400,000 -- than are in prison for all crimes in England, France, Germany and Japan combined.
Crack's legacy can be seen in nearly every corner of the land, even in the Mojave Desert, where the newest federal prison is rising at the dusty edge of Victorville. In an age of government downsizing, the federal corrections budget has grown more than tenfold in a decade, to nearly $4 billion, yet prisons are so stuffed with drug offenders that this one will be at capacity almost from the day it opens.
Some experts argue what might seem obvious: that high incarceration rates deserve the credit for falling crime rates.
"Putting people in prison has been the single most important thing we've done to reduce crime," Dr. James Q. Wilson, the political scientist whose ideas have influenced police departments for a generation, has written.
In New York, the police and prosecutors say locking up thousands of drug offenders was a major factor in the city's turning the corner on crime. "What plays havoc with a neighborhood are the low-level dealers," said Bridget Brennan, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for New York. "When they take over a street or a stoop, everyone else is terrified. When you put those people in jail, it gives the community a sense that order has been restored."
What the prison boom has not done, however, is reduce illicit drug use, national surveys show. Far fewer Americans use illegal drugs now than in the peak years of the 1970s. But almost all of the drop occurred before crack cocaine or the laws passed in response to it.
The most recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, for 1997, estimated that about 14 million people had used an illegal drug in the last month, a number barely changed since 1988. Of those, 600,000 had smoked crack within a month, unchanged since 1988. But during that time, imprisonment rates soared.
"What's happened across the board is that police started going after small-time street dealers and users," said Dr. Steven Belenko, a criminologist at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Crack never became a mainstream drug, but the fear of it changed perception and laws for virtually all illicit drugs, according to Belenko and others who have studied the war on drugs.
"Crack probably had more impact on the entire criminal justice system than it had on the communities and the drug users," said Dr. Franklin Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute at the University of California School of Law. "This secondary impact, on police and prisons, may end up being more negative than anything associated with the drug."
Among governors, teachers, criminologists and police chiefs, there is vigorous debate over how the drug laws enacted at the height of the crack panic have transformed the nation. But in Congress, which enacted the laws without a single hearing, there is nothing. For crack has left one other major legacy: The policy discussion in Washington on prisons and drugs has been frozen for more than a decade.
The Evidence: As Crime Rate Falls, More Prisons Are Built
The little towns tucked into the folds of the Appalachian Mountains in Schuylkill County, Pa., are a world removed from the city streets where crack cocaine was a media obsession in the mid-1980s. But the legacy of crack is all around.
A first-year teacher there can expect to make $18,500 a year, the state-mandated minimum. A prison-guard trainee is paid $22,300. The job of watching over the drug offenders and others who are filling three new state prisons in the region is coveted.
Pennsylvania might not seem the kind of place where prisons and jails would be booming. The state has an aging population. Crime has never been a particularly big problem; among the states, Pennsylvania has ranked near the bottom. But every year for the last 14 years, Pennsylvania has added at least one prison, and the corrections budget has soared to more than $1 billion a year, a fivefold increase over a decade.
In 1988, not long before President George Bush spoke to the nation about the war on drugs while holding up a bag of crack, Pennsylvania radically changed its drug laws, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for people caught with illicit drugs. No time off for first-time offenders. No community service. No treatment for addicts.
Pennsylvania was following the lead of Congress, which had set the nation on a course of strict incarceration for drug users with laws enacted in 1986 and 1988. Ten years later, its inmate population had grown 225 percent, to 35,600. Pennsylvania spends an average of $20,000 a year for each one, about the national average.
Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, has no plans to change the incarceration policy. "Every public expenditure comes with a choice," said his spokesman, Tim Reeves. "We defend the choices we've made."
The crime rate might not be so low if the state had not locked up so many drug offenders, Reeves said. "What would the rate be if those guys were not in jail?" he said. "Think about the cost to the community, the wasted lives and violent crime."
But in building a penal system in which three of every 10 new prisoners are serving time for drugs, according to the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission, which tracks prison rates for the state, Pennsylvania, like most states, has not reduced illegal drug use.
"I don't think anybody believes it has turned out to be an effective policy," said David Sweet, a Harrisburg lawyer who headed a special commission that examined the state's prison growth. "It appeared to us that we were using a very expensive way to provide secure housing for people who probably don't belong in prison."
Dr. Julia Glover Hall, a criminologist at Drexel University and president of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which Benjamin Franklin established to monitor prisons and jails, said: "It's a stupid game we're playing. We're locking up all these nonviolent offenders, pouring money down a rat hole."
She added: "I've been a crime victim. I'm not soft on criminals. But we have to look at the bottom line of what we're doing. There was this powerful scare in the crack years, and all across the country we passed these Draconian laws. Now we're starting to see how much it has cost the rest of us."
Pennsylvania is typical of what has happened across the country. California is spending nearly $4 billion a year to operate the nation's largest prison system. As the state added 21 prisons since 1984 -- and only one university campus -- violent criminals fell to 42 percent of the prison population in 1997, from 57 percent, while drug inmates grew to 27 percent, from 8 percent.
Political leaders have debated whether the building boom was at the expense of their budget's other big discretionary item, higher education. Many politicians said the state would try to fully finance both. But the numbers tell another story.
Spending on prisons has grown 60 percent over a decade, and pay for prison guards has more than doubled. For higher education, there was virtually no growth, and salaries in the state university system stagnated, falling behind other states. A prison guard now makes about $51,000 a year, while a first-year professor in California's once-vaunted university system is paid $41,000.
As the prison budget swelled, California raised tuition to make up the university financing gap. Over the last 10 years, as the state's population grew by 5 million people, state university enrollment fell by 20,000.
The shift in priorities, documented in a number of studies, has become a major issue since a new governor, Gray Davis, and a new Legislature took office.
"Most of our buildings are literally falling apart and we've lost 1,500 full-time faculty members," said Jeri Bledsoe, general manager of the California Faculty Association. "You bet there's been a price to pay for our prison boom."
The Convicted: $40 Worth of Cocaine Brings a Life Sentence
The biggest legacy of crack is out of sight, behind the concrete and steel of prisons. Addicts, couriers, girlfriends of dealers, people tempted by the lure of a quick buck, mostly poor blacks -- these are the dominant profiles of the people jailed since prisons started filling with drug criminals.
Inside the maximum-security unit at the state prison for women in Topeka, Kan., Gloria Van Winkle is in the sixth year of a life term for possessing $40 worth of cocaine. A mother of two and a drug addict, she had two convictions for cocaine possession when a convicted thief told undercover agents she was smoking crack and they set up a sting.
Kansas has all but forgotten about Ms. Van Winkle. Asked about her case, the state Sentencing Commission said no one was doing life for drug possession. "Only murderers get life sentences in Kansas," said its executive director, Barbara Tombs.
On further review, Ms. Tombs found that, yes, for a brief period in the early '90s, a person convicted of three drug offenses could get life. That law was changed. Ms. Van Winkle's sentence was not.
"I can't laugh anymore, I can't cry -- it's just a slow rage that makes me numb," Ms. Van Winkle said. Her sentence offers an eventual chance of parole, but for now, she lives for visits from her children, ages 10 and 6, and wonders what they will grow up to be like with her behind bars.
Her concern is shared by many others: Three-fourths of the 54,000 women jailed for drug crimes have children.
The police and prosecutors said Ms. Van Winkle should have been aware of the possibility of a life sentence. They said she was chosen because they thought she might lead them to dealers, but no follow-up arrests were made.
Ms. Van Winkle's case is rare but not unique. Because of three-strikes laws and other changes made in the last decade, people in several other states are serving life sentences for drug possession. More typical among women convicted of drug offenses are 5- and 10-year mandatory terms.
Tonya Drake, a mother of four, had no criminal record or history of drug use when she was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for mailing a package that contained crack cocaine. She says a friend paid her $44 to mail the package, which she did not know contained drugs.
Ms. Drake admits what she did was wrong. "But the time does not fit the crime," she said in a prison interview. "You lock me up for 10 years. While I'm here, my father dies, my children grow up, it cost thousands of dollars to keep me behind bars."
The children are having considerable trouble growing up with their mother in prison, said Ms. Drake's sister, Williet Mitchell. "Tonya was taken away from the kids at a time when everybody needed her," Ms. Mitchell said. "Now the kids are screwed up. They're angry and bitter that she was forced to leave them."
When the children see their mother in the prison visiting room, Ms. Drake tries to explain what brought her there. "I tell my kids I did something wrong, that it was a mistake," she said. "But it was my first and only mistake."
In Kentucky, Louie Cordell, a 55-year-old father of nine with no prior convictions, is finishing a mandatory five-year federal sentence for growing 141 marijuana plants.
Cordell was sent to prison under the 1986 law that set mandatory five- and 10-year sentences for the possession or sale of small amounts of crack. For marijuana, the law set a mandatory sentence of five years for possession of 100 plants, whether they were seedlings or 6 feet tall. That provision has since been changed to go by weight.
The law punished Cordell, but it hit his family just as hard. He worked seasonally at a sawmill in a poor county in southeastern Kentucky and was growing the marijuana to help make ends meet, said his wife, Shirley.
Since Cordell went to prison, a son gave up plans to attend college on a scholarship, in order to help support the family, and the Cordells have been on and off welfare.
"There's no way to describe what's happened to us except to say that it's been bad in all ways," Mrs. Cordell said. "Louie was here providing for us and then they took him away. I expected him to get some time for what he did, but not five years."
Marijuana was never mentioned in the floor speeches in Congress when the drug laws were rewritten in 1986, but the new penalties for crack were accompanied by harsher sentences for most drugs. Ten years later, more people were sentenced under the federal system for marijuana than for any other drug.
Supporters of harsh penalties argue that locking up the Louie Cordells of the world has a deterrent effect and say convictions reduce other crimes associated with drug use.
Marijuana arrests set a record in 1997 -- 695,200, nearly 90 percent of which were for simple possession. And marijuana remains, by far, the most popular illegal drug: 18 million Americans used marijuana at least once in 1997, according to the National Household Survey. And some 71 million, 33 percent of those over age 12, have used marijuana at some time.
Asked about deterrence, the federal prosecutor in Cordell's case, David Marye, said marijuana cultivation does not seem to have diminished in rural Kentucky.
"I've been prosecuting cases, state and federal, for 21 years, and we have so many people who keep doing what Louie Cordell was doing that it makes you wonder if we'll ever stop them," he said.
The Cities: Racial Implications of the Crack Laws
One of every 20 Americans born this year will serve time in prison, according to a Justice Department study. For blacks, the projection is one in four. By 1996, 8.3 percent of black men age 25 to 29 were inmates, compared with 0.8 percent of white men that age.
The odds of going to prison used to be more even. But the criminal justice system's special treatment of crack cocaine dramatically threw off the balance, according to reports by the Sentencing Commission and the Justice Department.
For people convicted of a crack offense, the world of justice is unlike any other. Crack is simply cocaine processed so that it can be smoked. But federal law equates 5 grams of crack with 500 grams of powder cocaine, a 1-to-100 ratio that no other country recognizes. Possessing 5 grams of crack is a felony with an automatic five-year prison term, while 5 grams of the same drug in powder form is a misdemeanor likely to carry no jail time.
One consequence of the disparity is that kingpins at the top of a drug network who sell pounds of powder cocaine for processing often serve less time than street-level dealers who sell grams of crack.
"One of the great victims of the drug war is that our sense of penal proportion has been thrown out," said Zimring, of the University of California School of Law. "Now we have a fairness problem."
In addition, a law aimed at one type of drug use has been applied most often against one type of user -- urban blacks.
A higher percentage of blacks use crack cocaine than whites or Hispanic people. But in absolute numbers, twice as many whites as blacks use crack, and three times as many whites as blacks use powder cocaine, the national household survey shows.
As the war on drugs set up special penalties on crack, however, law enforcement focused on the highly visible, often violent crack trade in city neighborhoods, rather than the larger traffic in cocaine going on behind closed doors across the country. The result: Nearly 90 percent of the people locked up for crack under federal drug laws are black, McCaffrey said.
In state prisons, blacks make up nearly 60 percent of the people serving time on drug offenses, according to Justice Department figures, though they are only 12 percent of the general population and 15 percent of regular drug users.
"I don't think we got into this fix because of racism," McCaffrey said. "The impact of crack on the African-American community was devastating. And that's where enforcement has been concentrated."
The racial disparity would disappear if the law treated the powder and crack forms of cocaine equally, said Dr. Douglas McDonald, a senior scientist at Abt Associates, a social policy research group in Cambridge, Mass., who testified before Congress. If enforcement were evenly applied, more whites than blacks would go to prison, he said.
So for many blacks the legacy of crack is not just the violence and high prison rates that have hit so many communities, but a heightened sense that the law does not treat them fairly.
"You have so many people who feel hopeless, who feel that it is extremely unfair that so many low-level offenders are going to jail for such a long time," said Mattie Compton, a black community leader in Fort Worth, Texas, who is deputy chief assistant U.S. attorney for the civil division.
"We know we're going to lose people in poor neighborhoods, but when you see people who are prospects for future leaders going away to jail for so long, you wonder if we really are a community under siege," Ms. Compton said.
Asked about the legacy of crack in the Roxbury district of Boston, where he works with drug addicts at a community health center, Seward Hunter said: "If you're African-American, you expect to be targeted by the police and you expect to be stopped and searched."
Many in Congress say there is no racial intent behind the disparity between crack and powder. Crack is punished more severely because of the harm it does and because of the violent crimes associated with it.
"No one should forget that crack traffickers deal in death, and that they do so to the most vulnerable among us, the residents of our inner cities," said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime.
The Change: Crack Makes News; Congress Responds
How Congress came to write a law that allows a person caught with 400 grams of powder cocaine, worth some $40,000, to do less than a year in jail, while a person holding the same amount of cocaine in crack form will spend 10 years in prison, is a mystery to people who have tried to research the statutory intent.
One lawyer who was instrumental in rewriting the drug laws in 1986 and 1988 says it came about through whim and attempts by politicians to one-up each other as crack seized headlines just before elections.
"There was a level of hysteria that led to a total breakdown of the legislative process," said the lawyer, Eric Sterling, who as a lead lawyer on the House Judiciary Committee wrote the laws that established long mandatory terms for several drugs. Since leaving the Judiciary Committee in 1989, Sterling has worked to overturn the laws as president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington.
In the summer of 1986, crack was just starting to be labeled as an epidemic when a college basketball star, Len Bias, died of a drug overdose, reportedly crack cocaine. Speaker Tip O'Neill, whose hometown team, the Boston Celtics, had drafted Bias, ordered an overhaul of federal drug laws. The death of Bias was invoked in Congress 11 times.
The law, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, passed the House with only 16 dissenting votes. Despite complaints by some senators that no one had studied the bill, it sailed through the Senate and President Ronald Reagan signed it before Election Day.
A year later, court testimony revealed that Bias had died of an overdose of powder cocaine, not crack. But by then crack had its special status in state and federal law.
Crack was singled out for good reason, according to Edwin Meese, the attorney general in the mid-1980s and now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow of Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization in Washington.
"Crack cocaine was the scourge of the inner city," he said. "The reason laws were changed was to protect the inner city."
In 1988, Congress passed another overhaul of drug laws just before the election, singling out crack as the only drug to carry a mandatory five-year prison term for possession.
That year, a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of Americans surveyed agreed that to curb drug use they "would be willing to give up some freedoms."
Crack was on the cover of news magazines, dominated television and newspaper coverage, and was labeled "America's drug of choice," by NBC. The New York Times reported that crack was spreading to the suburbs. William Bennett, the drug czar for 18 months under President Bush, said it might soon invade every home in America. Crack was compared to the bubonic plague and called "the most addictive drug known to man" in Newsweek.
Today, few of the revisionist experts on drug laws dispute crack's link to violence and gangs. "It was a nightmare," McCaffrey said. "It was World War III."
But crack was never America's drug of choice -- it did not come close. At the height of concern in the late 1980s, the National Household Survey on Drugs estimated that less than one-half of 1 percent of the population over age 12 used crack once a month, while 10 percent used marijuana. And three out of four high school seniors who tried crack did not continue to use it, according to a national survey of students by the University of Michigan.
Both surveys have flaws, underestimating inner-city users and high school dropouts. But even after the findings for high use in certain urban areas are adjusted, crack was never the epidemic it was held up to be.
The media attention was so hyperbolic that the Drug Enforcement Administration was compelled to correct the record. "Crack is currently the subject of considerable media attention," the agency said in 1986. "The result has been a distortion of the public perception of the extent of crack use as compared to the use of other drugs."
Although crack was labeled the world's most addictive drug, 10 years of national surveys have shown that most people who try crack do not continue to use it.
Because of its intense but short-lived effect, crack does tend to make its users "psychologically dependent," reported a Justice Department study. But numerous studies have shown that crack, like the powder form of cocaine, may be less physically addictive than alcohol or tobacco.
The Pyramid: Lower-Level Dealers Feel the Sting of Laws
Political leaders said harsh sentencing laws were intended to deter use of the most dangerous drugs, with crack at the top of the list. Failing that, they said, the laws would at least go after drug kingpins. But statistics show a different pattern among people sentenced to prison for drugs since 1986.
Of the people jailed by the federal government for crack offenses, only 5 percent were considered high-level dealers, according to a study by the Sentencing Commission.
"The current policy focuses law-enforcement efforts on the lowest level of the distribution line, the street-level dealer," the commission's vice chairman, Michael Gelacak, wrote. "Unless we ignore all evidence to the contrary, the current policy has little or no impact upon the drug abuse problem. The jails are full."
Supporters of the crack laws say the numbers are explained by the pyramid structure of drug operations; by nature they have few people at the top, lots of people at the bottom.
But those at the top are often dealing powder cocaine, with its vastly different penalties. And they are in a position to become informers, the only real hope of beating a mandatory prison term.
Had Tonya Drake, the woman serving 10 years for mailing a package, been able to supply what the law labels "substantial assistance" -- information on a high-level dealer -- she might have reduced her sentence. The 1980s drug laws leave discretion in the hands of prosecutors to encourage people to "snitch."
Ms. Drake identified the man who gave her the package, but he was never found. The prosecutor decided her assistance was not substantial. The fixed sentences have infuriated judges, who say they feel their role has been reduced to that of rubber stamps for prosecutors, while their courts are clogged with low- to medium-level drug offenders.
"When you're dealing with first-time offenders, you should have some discretion," said Lawrence Irving, a former federal judge from San Diego. "I had cases where I was forced to give more jail time for low-level offenders than for the kingpins. It made no sense."
In a 1994 case in Chicago, Marvin Aspen, a U.S. District Court judge, labeled his sentencings "a farce" as he sent the lowest and "least culpable" member of a big crack operation to prison for longer than a supplier at the top.
Monica Boguille, the 20-year-old mother of a baby girl, was sentenced to 10 years for occasionally counting money for her boyfriend, a crack dealer. L.C. Godfrey, one of the ring's wholesale suppliers of cocaine, who was deemed helpful to prosecutors, received nine years.
Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court said recently that federal judges should regain some of the discretion they once had. Five years ago, Chief Justice William Rehnquist made similar points in condemning the mandatory minimum sentences established by Congress.
Dozens of federal judges, most of them former prosecutors, have taken a strong stand against mandatory minimum drug sentences. For these judges, the most significant legacy of crack is a legal system that has left them as little more than spectators in their own courtrooms.
The Aftermath: The Penalties Outlive Fear of an Epidemic
McCaffrey says he came to the drug debate with an open mind but has become convinced that current policies, with the primary emphasis on imprisonment, are failing. "The current system is bad drug policy and bad law enforcement," he said.
On cost alone, arresting, prosecuting and locking up all drug criminals at the price of about $35 billion a year is not effective, he said. He now favors long sentences for dealers and treatment for low-level users.
A recent study by Rand Corp. concluded that mandatory jail terms are the least cost-effective way of reducing cocaine consumption. For violent crimes, long sentences keep criminals off the street, it reported, but for drug crimes, "a jailed supplier is often replaced by another supplier."
Drug treatment also has a low success rate; among regular users of cocaine who undergo treatment, only one in eight stops. But even that would achieve a greater reduction in cocaine use -- at a fraction of the cost -- than prison, the Rand study stated.
"We misread a lot what was going on in the 1980s, in that we thought crack use was going to grow and take over society," said Dr. Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who conducted the study. "The real tragedy is that now that it's clear that crack was not the epidemic it was supposed to be, we still have these laws."
But few authorities on crime expect the laws to change, no matter how full the prisons become. "For politicians, the drug debate is driven by the three R's -- retribution, revenge, retaliation -- and that leads to the fourth R, re-election," said Dr. James Alan Fox, dean of the college of criminal justice at Northeastern University.
This month, the Clinton administration announced a plan to cut drug use in half by 2007. After years of reduced federal financing for drug rehabilitation, it would increase money for treating addicts.
The war metaphor has been dropped by the White House, and by some in Congress as well. But the emphasis on long mandatory prison terms and locking up small-time dealers remains the main strategy for Congress.
"I believe it is crucial, given our continuing struggle in the war on drugs, that we send an unwavering and unambiguous message to all Americans, and our children in particular, that the sale of illegal drugs is dangerous, wrong and will not be tolerated," said Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Abraham has introduced a bill that would establish much longer sentences for people convicted of powder cocaine offenses, making them closer to crack.
"All that bill would do is lock up a bigger batch of small fry," said Julie Stewart, a former member of the conservative Cato Institute, who founded Families Against Mandatory Minimums after her brother was sent to prison on a marijuana conviction. The group has 37,000 members.
But with polls showing that most Americans favor long prison terms for drug trafficking, attempts to persuade Congress to reconsider the laws have gone nowhere. Sentiment has remained the same for nearly a decade, dating to a time when some politicians predicted that the United States could be drug-free by the year 2000. Nobody makes such a prediction these days.
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