Federal Court Rejects Harsh Government Sentencing Guideline for Ecstasy
A US federal judge has rejected the government’s sentencing guideline on the drug ecstasy, ruling that it was based on repudiated science and punished ecstasy-related crimes much more severely than was warranted.
According to The Raw Story, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III ruled in the case of Sean McCarthy, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute ecstasy. Federal guidelines called for a 63 to 78 month prison sentence. Judge Pauley instead sentenced McCarthy to 26 months.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had presented Judge Pauley with scientific evidence from expert witnesses at a hearing in December. Those witnesses argued that the federal sentencing guideline for ecstasy were flawed.
Ten years ago, as rising ecstasy use, especially among young people, alarmed government officials, the US Sentencing Commission decided that ecstasy-related “crimes” should be punished more harshly than even cocaine-related ones, using the flawed logic that ecstasy was a neurotoxic that was both a stimulant and a hallucinogenic (as opposed to cocaine, which was merely a stimulant), and was being marketed to young people more aggressively than cocaine.
But unlike cocaine, ecstasy is not addictive. In its pure form, known as MDMA, it was originally used successfully in marriage therapy in the 1970s. The drug showed great promise due to the feelings of empathy and connection it produced– a result of serotonin release in the brain, but a panicked response to increasing recreational use in the 1980s led to a first-of-its kind emergency ban, even though government medical and scientific authorities argued that it had therapeutic value. Ecstasy was re-discovered as a therapeutic drug during the War on Terror and has been administered to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Scott Michelman, an ACLU attorney, applauded Judge Pauley’s ruling. “We commend Judge Pauley for recognizing that the 10-year-old sentencing guideline for Ecstasy is based on flawed assumptions and repudiated science,” he said. “Unnecessarily punitive drug sentencing guidelines play a major role in exacerbating our nation’s costly problem of overincarceration, and we urge the U.S. Sentencing Commission to undertake a thorough and scientifically grounded re-evaluation of all drug guidelines.”
“The harshness of the Ecstasy guideline affects hundreds of defendants each year in the federal system. We are gratified that courageous and thoughtful jurists are addressing this problem, and we hope today’s decision will encourage more judges to take a hard look at this issue,” he added.
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