We often hear the phrase “the punishment should fit the crime,” and I’m quite certain that many people believe that to be a cornerstone of common law. It is certainly the primary concept of retributive justice, and is contrasted by the legal theory of utilitarianism; “the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.” While I’m no expert on the concept of utilitarianism, I would suspect that the theory has been used more often than not by the supporters of the drug war.
On September 4, 2013, 27 year-old Corey Ladd was sentenced “to 20 years hard labor at the [Louisiana] Department of Corrections.” Ladd’s dastardly offense that landed him in the clink for 2 decades was possession of 15 grams of cannabis.
Bill Quigley of AlterNet.com reports, “In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years.”
The punishment of 20 years in prison for possessing 15 grams of plant substance is in no way proportionate to the supposed offense, and I can’t even fathom how such a punishment is seen as benefiting the whole of society. The tax-payers of Louisiana are ultimately worse off, as they are being forced to pay for the incarceration of Corey Ladd for the next 20 years. Those same tax-payers are also being forced to pay for the incarceration of nearly 14,000 other people in Louisiana for drug offenses.
Karen O’Keefe, Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice. Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”
Whether a punishment of 20 years in prison for possessing 15 grams of cannabis is considered retributive justice or utilitarianism should not matter. No one should be incarcerated for an offense with no identifiable victim. Further, those individuals who do create a victim should make their victims whole, and incarceration should only be a last resort if the perpetrator refuses to give the needed reparations.