90 Day Minimum Mandatory Sentence Proposed for Ecstasy Users
This afternoon, Tuesday, January 15, the Public Safety Committees in both the Senate and Assembly will hear two bills that threaten to increase the penalties for Ecstasy (or MDMA, Ecstasy's chemical name). The committees will then decide whether or not to pass the bills on to each house of the legislature for a vote. If passed, Senate Bill 1103 and Assembly Bill 1416 will create mandatory minimum sentences of 90 days in jail for individuals "under the influence of Ecstasy."
Furthermore, while Ecstasy is currently unscheduled, these bills categorize it as Schedule 1-making it illegal even for research purposes. This seems to contradict the FDA's attempt to investigate the medicinal value of the drug. Just last November the FDA approved the first U.S. clinical trial of Ecstasy as a treatment for traumatic stress disorder.
Use of Ecstasy is especially popular among high school students. Over the past three years, there has been a sharp increase in use of Ecstasy with 12 percent of high school seniors reporting that they tried the drug and 62 percent claiming that it was easy to obtain in a 2001 survey. Overuse of Ecstasy in a club setting sometimes causes overheating and dehydration, especially when water is scarce. Teens who might otherwise call emergency services for someone who has displayed one of the above signs of overuse might now, because of certain jail time, avoid making the call, potentially causing life-threatening situations. According to Glenn Backes, Director of Health Policy for The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, "There are already laws against sale and use, this law is going to scare teens away from calling 911 when they see a friend in danger."
According to Marsha Rosenbaum, Ph.D. of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, "Adopting a mandatory jail sentence and classifying Ecstasy as a Schedule 1 substance is unlikely to decrease the growing demand for the drug. Instead, it's likely force a community of users further underground and increase the risks to the safety of those who use the drug." Citing the success of the anti-smoking campaign in decreasing smoking rates among teens, Rosenbaum argues that "The safety of Ecstasy users is best gained through education rather than criminalization. It is important that legislators reevaluate the trend toward harshening laws against drugs and attempt to educate the public about potential risks and harms."