While Texans continue to fight for cannabis legalization in the state, one 56-year-old trucking company owner could live the rest of his days behind bars for selling marijuana. David Lopez received a “de facto” life sentencing June 2 on drug conspiracy and possession charges.
According to federal prosecutors, Lopez was transporting marijuana from El Paso, Texas to cities across the United States. The drug smuggling operation took place from August 2001 to August 2015, as Lopez and other hired drivers delivered shipments. Police seized 3,300 kilos of marijuana in busts linked to Lopez. He was caught when Lopez tried to hire a DEA informant and undercover officer to transport marijuana for him
The 24-year sentence Lopez received harkens back to mandatory minimum sentencing that led to rises in the prison population via the War on Drugs. Obama-era policies aimed to reverse course on such actions, showing more leniency to lower-level drug offenders. But the Trump administration are re-instituting previous policies under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directive to pursue the “most serious” charges in cases.
The Drug Policy Alliance came out strongly at the time against such initiatives and indicated that Sessions was seeking long draconian policies that did irreparable harm.
“This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety,” said Michael Collins, the DPA’s deputy director of national affairs. “Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.”
Lopez’s sentencing will move him in a club people are calling the “marijuana lifers.” This a group of 16 individuals serving either life or “de facto” life sentences because of charges related to cannabis. Lopez, who would be 78 if he served the entirety of his sentence, fits squarely into that club.
But was the sentencing justified? As VICE News pointed out:
Lopez, however, was not linked to any acts of violence. The evidence list in his case includes a relatively small amount of cocaine that was seized during the investigation, but he was only charged with selling marijuana. His lengthy sentence was the result of federal rules that require mandatory-minimums for drug conspiracy charges. Prosecutors also sought additional time because Lopez was previously convicted of felony marijuana possession in Missouri in 1995.
Will R. Glaspy, a U.S. DEA special agent in charge of the El Paso division, said in a statement that Lopez’s case showcases the DEA and other law enforcement agencies are having “a positive impact at the local level. We are sending a strong and unified message that drug dealing, at all levels, will not be tolerated, and, in turn, we are making our communities safer.”
Critics might argue cases like this one have led to the United States becoming the world leader in incarceration. Studies have shown that crime rates fluctuate independent of incarceration rates. In addition, the country is seeing historic lows in crime rates. Though the DEA and Trump administration will continue pursuing harsh sentencing, evidence from the ACLU indicates they might not be making our communities any safer.