Ranking Drug Harms for Sentencing Policy
26 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2015
Date Written: May 31, 2015
Unidimensional rankings comparing the harmfulness of different drugs have been criticized as too simplistic for policy making. A type of unidimensional ranking of direct drug harms is needed for sentencing policy making, however, in order to implement the sentencing principle of just desert. Available empirical evidence of the relative harmfulness of illegal drugs on several measures of direct harm is reviewed. Data on typical dosage weight is used to evaluate the proportionality of current federal mandatory minimum statutes and guidelines for drug trafficking offenses. Several drugs that rank relatively low on harms are punished as, or more, severely than drugs that are far more harmful. Mandatory minimum statutes and congressional directives to the United States Sentencing Commission must be repealed or revised before recommendations of the federal sentencing guidelines will result in proportionate punishment.
Keywords: sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimums, drug policy, drug harms
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