Anti Drug Abuse Act Of 1986 Essay

2101 words - 9 pages

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was policy pushed into legislation on the heels of public outcry over the death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias. The basketball star, who two days earlier was drafted 2nd overall in the NBA draft, died of cocaine intoxication. Ten years prior, President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in America. He hoped that propaganda and social encouragement would move America to change its perception on drugs. Going so far to ask influential figures like Elvis Presley, who later died of drug overdose, to help create a drug free America (Deborah J. Vagins, 2006). During that time crack cocaine became a budding problem. The trade was notorious for the violence accompanying it and started to get the attention of the American public. Reagen secured his presidency by convincing American voters that he was tougher on drugs than challenger Walter Mondale (Federal Sentencing Reporter, 2011). In this changing America, Len Bias’ scandalous death became national news and frightened parents everywhere. They were told his passing was a result of a one-time experimentation with cocaine. Democrats at the time new it was a big issue and decided to toughen their stance. Eric Sterling, who served as counsel to the House committee that drafted the ’86 law, recalled drug policy becoming “ the sole focus of legislative activity for the remainder of the session on both sides of the aisle.” Len Bias’ tragedy soon became the force behind every policy and press conference (EASLEY, 2011). Bias was a world class athlete with a clean record. There was no evidence that he had ever done cocaine before.
The rhetoric soon became “drugs will kill you even if you only try them one.” Sterling explained further “Usually when you want to introduce a new bill, you sit down and carefully write the policy. Are we clear on what the implications are? You write a draft and maybe circulate it around for ideas. You ask federal judges, prisons, prosecutors, U.S. attorneys, the DEA, law professors, sentencing commissions, criminal defense lawyers and the ACLU how it will affect things. You have hearings. All of this was skipped [for the drug sentencing bill]. Both sides were trying to be quicker and tougher than the other” (EASLEY, 2011). Democrats soon presented the bill to a Republican majority congress. Lacking any real studies, the Republicans took the Democrats’ proposal and made it more ridged. What resulted was ten to forty year mandatory prison sentences coupled with a five gram tolerance. Instead of doing the proper studies to find these numbers, each side of congress was simply trying to seem tougher on drugs than the other side.
Since the act was signed into legislation, it effectiveness is debatable, although most would argue it detriment. The prison population in 1986 was 36,000, today it’s 216,000 (Stein, (2010)). Today, more than half of federal inmates are booked on drug charges. The prison population is also disproportionately...

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