There is an ongoing debate over what is a ‘proper’ sentence for drug-related offenses. No one argues that major dealers trafficking substantial amounts of Schedule I drugs should not be sentenced to long jail terms. Most are willing to agree that first time offenders, found with trivial amounts of drugs such as marijuana probably should not be sentenced to jail at all.

But in between there are a large number of drug cases where much less is clear or easily agreed to, leading to federal judges admitting in court that a sentence may be “ridiculous,” but they, nonetheless, are forced to impose it.

Prison is expensive, in both the direct cost of maintaining the criminal justice system, from arrest to serving a sentence in a prison and the indirect costs of having millions of individuals with criminal records and limited job opportunities.

Mandatory minimums and the structure of sentencing means that a man can be sent to prison for 10 years for introducing another drug user to a meth dealer. Because the amount of meth that they were later arrested with, the man who introduced them was subject to a 10-year sentence, as a “middleman” in a drug distribution deal.

The federal judge describes the sentence as ridiculous, but that did not change its mandatory nature. The pity is that the man charged had been recovering, employed, leading AA meetings, married, and working on his GED. However, none of that matters with a mandatory minimum.

The taxpayers will be forced to house and care for this man for a decade, with the increased risk that he will fall back into old habits. Additionally, he will have a much more difficult time when he is released to find a job and build the social and educational skills to overcome the disability of 10-years in a federal prison.

Judges need to have the ability to differentiate between those who are dangerous and those who are endangered by being sent to prison.

Source:, “As Drug Sentencing Debate Rages, ‘Ridiculous’ Sentences Persist,” Jon Schuppe, May 2, 2016,