Steve at a Campaign ParadeLet me tell you why I am no longer active in either mainstream party.

I was a Republican activist most of my life for one simple reason – I believe we need to reduce the size of government and its intrusion into our lives. I was what Andrew Sullivan (my favorite political blogger) coined a South Park Republican.

Hell, I was so into it – I even ran for the Minnesota State Legislature.

If you’re a small government guy like me, there are countless reasons to be disenfranchised with the current Republican Party – wiretaps, suspension of habeas corpus, the drug war, the ‘terror’ war, massive government spending, unprecedented debt, and on and on…

This event pushed me over the edge…

My bright and promising 19-year-old nephew was a college Sophomore in 2005. In October of 2005, the local police arrested him for possession of psilocybin mushrooms.

When I first heard the news I thought, ‘shrooms – no big deal – he’ll pay a fine – maybe do a few weeks in county jail – he’ll learn a life lesson – it might even be good for him.

What I discovered over the next few months horrified me.

Drug Classifications

The first thing I learned is that Minnesota, the US federal government, and the UN classify psilocybin mushrooms as a Schedule I narcotic. This means that the government considers them more dangerous than Crack or Methamphetamine. The government considers psilocybin mushrooms as dangerous as Heroin. Anybody with any experience in the counter-culture knows that riding a motorcycle is many times more dangerous than eating psilocybin mushrooms. From 1993 – 2000 there was one confirmed death from ‘magic mushrooms.’ But I digress.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Minnesota has mandatory minimum sentences called guidelines and judges rarely deviate from them. The Democrats and Republicans put the system together in a joint effort to rid the system of discriminatory sentencing.

“The purpose of the sentencing guidelines is to establish rational and consistent sentencing standards which reduce sentencing disparity and ensure that sanctions following conviction of a felony are proportional to the severity of the offense of conviction and the extent of the offender’s criminal history. Equity in sentencing requires (a) that convicted felons similar with respect to relevant sentencing criteria ought to receive similar sanctions, and (b) that convicted felons substantially different from a typical case with respect to relevant criteria ought to receive different sanctions.” As revised August 1, 2004.

This meant the prosecutor – following the letter of the law – charged my nephew with Minnesota’s most severe drug charge – 1st degree controlled substance crime, a charge originally intended for drug kingpins.

How do I know it was intended for drug kingpins?

From the Minnesota Bar…
First-degree offenses were ranked at severity level VIII. These were, in the words of the legislative history, the true drug kingpins, the drug wholesalers. — were viewed to be similar to a person who raped someone using a threat of serious bodily injury.

The only crime considered more severe than possessing psilocybin mushrooms is murder. You Don’t believe me? – Read the Minnesota Sentencing Grid.

Minnesota law treats the possession of psilocybin mushrooms equal to robbing a store and raping the clerk at gunpoint… all in order to ‘reduce sentencing disparity.’ So the next time you hear someone harping about equality, be careful, the solution might make us all equally miserable.

So, a 19-year-old hippy kid – with no criminal history – in a blue state – was facing a mandatory 8 years in prison with no chance of early parole.

This isn’t a kid who was going to ‘make it’ in prison. He is young, thin, blonde, shy, and peaceful. IMHO – sending him to prison would be the cruelest kind of torture.

In the past, I’ve always supported the ‘get tough on crime’ crowd. I thought they would go after murderers, child molesters, and rapists. I didn’t know they viewed mushroom eating college students as a major threat to society.

Look at this situation in Kansas. Does this make sense to you?

So what happened to your nephew?

My brother isn’t wealthy, so they consulted the public defender and he recommended that they attempt to plea bargain the charge to a 2nd degree controlled substance crime, which carried a mandatory 4-year prison sentence. This was unacceptable so my brother tapped his retirement savings and secured the best criminal defense attorney in the Upper Midwest.

The attorney moved to have the evidence suppressed (the mushrooms) because the police violated my nephew’s 4th amendment rights (search and seizure). I’m not going to go into detail about the case, but a judge ruled that the police violated his 4th amendment rights and ordered the evidence suppressed, which meant the prosecution had no case – no mushrooms, no crime.

So my nephew walked – the luckiest kid on earth. But imagine what happens to a kid that doesn’t have a dad willing to spend his retirement savings on his defense?

So what does this mean for my political activism?

It means that I will no longer support a political candidate or party that doesn’t vow to reform the irrational drug laws that are destroying our young people. It leaves me without a political home, except the libertarians, who never recieve more than 1% of the vote – hardly a comforting home.

Remember, the kids we lock up in prison are real people, real people’s children, and real people’s grandchildren. They aren’t statistics on Fox News; they are human beings.

I’d love to hear from the law and order types…

How does society benefit from locking up children for possessing hallucinogens? Locking them in cages where they will likely be beaten and sexually abused for years by real criminals.

  • How do you justify this?
  • Why do they deserve such a heinous punishment?
  • How does society benefit from this?
  • Why aren’t more of us outraged? Is it because it’s usually someone else’s kids?

I recently read that hallucinogens are illegal because they make authority seem funny and there is nothing more threatening to authority than laughing children. Look at the latest terrorism case in Boston. Reporters found the ‘accused terrorists’ jokes at a news conference more unsettling than the over-reaction and incompetence of the City of Boston.

Steve with Jimmy Hoffa Jr.I’ve wanted to do this post for months – and I’ve written it, re-written it, thrown it away, and written it again. Each time I’ve been afraid I’ll be misunderstood. I guess it’s a risk I’ll take.

But let me be very clear…

I am not attempting to pander to Democrats. That party has done nothing to end the drug war and its abuses. I am looking for anyone in either mainstream party to step forward and propose an end to this injustice.

I am not advocating drug use. I am simply questioning the severity of our drug laws while looking for intelligent creative ideas that address the problem.