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Mandatory Drug Sentencing Laws

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In reaction to a virtual wave of cocaine being smuggled into the country and cocaine addiction reaching epidemic proportions in the 1980s, the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures adopted new laws that stiffened the penalties for anyone convicted of trafficking illegal drugs. These laws made jail terms mandatory for drug dealers and anyone in possession of certain amounts of illegal drugs.

Mandatory drug sentencing for those found guilty of possession and sales of drugs is one that most Americans support. Voters have shown strong backing to political candidates who adopt the "longer sentencing" position.

Latest Developments

More mandatory drug sentences are being proposed. Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a proponent of mandatory sentencing, has introduced a bill to Congress called "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2004." The bill is designed to increase mandatory sentences for specific drug offenses. It includes mandatory sentencing of 10 years to life in prison for any person age 21 or over who attempts or conspires to offer drugs (including marijuana) to someone younger than 18 years old. Anyone who has offered, solicited, enticed, persuaded, encouraged, induced, or coerces or possess a controlled substance, will be sentenced to a term not less than five years.

Background

Mandatory drug sentencing laws came about in the 1980s in the height of the War on Drugs. The seizure of 3,906 pounds of cocaine, valued then at over $100 million wholesale, from a Miami International Airport hangar on March 9, 1982 brought about the public's awareness of the Medellin Cartel -- Colombian drug traffickers working together -- and changed U.S. law enforcement's approach towards the drug trade -- and sparked new life into the War on Drugs.

Lawmakers began to vote more money for law enforcement and began to create stiffer penalties for not only drug dealers, but for drug users.

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