The answer is Michigan. The province of Quebec finds Michigan laws to be an outrage against international standards of human decency. Do you agree? Keep reading.
In Michigan, for delivery of cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine, or conspiracy to deliver cocaine, the following penalties apply:
|under 50 grams||up to 20 years, minimum of 1 year||50-224 grams||up to 20 years, minimum of 10-20 years||225-649 grams||20-30 years
||over 650 grams||life in prison
(one ounce is 28 grams, one pound is 454 grams, one kilogram is 1000 grams)
To give you some idea of the amounts involved, get 2 normal 1 pound boxes of baking soda, and empty them. Fill one box all the way up with cocaine, and fill the second box halfway up with cocaine. You have just committed a crime as serious as premeditated, first degree murder. If caught, you will serve life in prison.
On the other hand, if you filled the boxes with cyanide, enough to kill hundreds of thousands of people, your actions would be completely legal.
This law was advertised as being designed to get "drug kingpins." Cocaine is entering the U.S. by the boatload. But 650 grams is not a boatload, or a truckload, or even a suitcase-full. It is an amount so small you can hold it in one hand.
A person prosecuted under federal law for 650 grams of cocaine, if a first offender, could receive a sentence of 5 years 3 months to 6 years 6 months. If he got credit for pleading guilty and accepting responsibility for his offense, the penalty would go down to between 4 years 3 months to 5 years 3 months.
How can it possibly be that 6 1/2 years, and life in prison, are both appropriate punishments for the same person committing the same crime?
In USA v Jamieson, decided August 25, 1994 by Quebec Court of Appeals, the Court refused to extradite Daniel Jamieson to Michigan to face the mandatory 20 to 30 year sentence for a 225-649 gram case. The Court held that this penalty under the Michigan drug laws violates "the principles of fundamental justice within the meaning of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
The Court held that Michigan drug laws are "not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," and that they are "shocking and fundamentally unacceptable to our society." The Court went on to hold that punishment under Michigan drug laws is "so excessive as to outrage standards of decency" and "so grossly disproportionate as to outrage the public conscience or be degrading to human dignity." The Court concluded that punishment under Michigan drug laws "offends the Canadian sense of what is fair, right and just." They held that anyone facing these laws will find a safe haven if they can get to Quebec.
So, Michigan stands condemned as an international outlaw by our neighbors to the north and, indeed, by several US Supreme Court justices. In Harmelin v Michigan, 501 US 957 (1991), 4 justices of US Supreme Court ruled that Michigan's drug law penalties were unconstitutional because they constituted cruel and unusual punishment for being excessive. However, it took 5 votes to win.
[Note: The Canadian federal government, more interested in good relations with the US Government than it is in justice, has recently repudiated the position of Quebec, so Quebec no longer stands as a safe haven.]
These sentencing practices are similar to those found in Michigan under Prohibition. In 1927, Fred Palm was sentenced to life in prison for 14 ounces of gin. In 1928, Etta Mae Miller was sentenced to life in prison for 2 pints of whiskey. These are reported cases from the Michigan Supreme Court, which reports considerably less than 1% of all criminal cases in the state.
To read more about the insanity of Prohibition, and see how little has changed in 80 years, click here.
Michigan practices are not unusual in today's legal climate. For example, in Texas under former Governor, now President George W. Bush, the following penalties applied:
|less than 1 gram||minimum 6 months, maximum 2 years||1 to 4 grams||minimum 2 years, maximum 20 years||4 to 200 grams||5 to 99 years or life in prison
||200 to 400 grams||10 to 99 years or life in prison
||over 400 grams||15 to 99 years or life in prison
As of 1996 there were 224 people serving life in prison without parole for drug charges in Michigan, with thousands more serving sentences of 10 years and up.
To its credit, Michigan in 1998 amended the law to make the life sentence parolable after serving 20 years, slightly less for first offenders and valuable snitches. This change in the law has resulted in few paroles, under the parole board policy that barring extraordinary circumstances "life means life." The new law has slightly reduced the injustice, but has hardly eliminated it.
Under Michigan law, a person would get more time for handing you even the tiniest packet of cocaine than for deliberately poking out your eyes with a stick, even if they left you blind and helpless for the rest of your life.
Here's another possible solution. Why not try convincing people not to use drugs?
Obviously, neither of these solutions will be tried anytime soon, because government policy is based on the theory that if we only had enough police, guns, handcuffs, bullets and prison cells, we could stamp out the people's desire to be free. If we had a system based on freedom and personal choice, those pesky citizens would insist on doing things their own way, instead of doing the bidding of the government.
Would the government voluntarily give up its power to run the lives of its citizens? Not likely. As philosopher Edmund Burke once said: "Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue."
And so we must live the life described by Abraham Lincoln, in a speech given May 19, 1856:
"We cannot be free men if this is, by our national choice, to be a land of slavery. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."
Click here to read about Prohibition (and Tim Allen).
Click here to read the incredible story of Mindy Brass.
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