FACED WITH A mounting number of opioid-related overdoses, state lawmakers across the U.S. are turning to the devil they know.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, for example--a moderate Republican-declared in August that opioids and gangs made it "critical that our laws give law enforcement the appropriate tools and enforcement measures to keep everyone safe." The "tools" he was referring to were stiff new mandatory minimum sentences.
A pernicious legacy of the 1980s' war on crack cocaine, mandatory minimums essentially allow prosecutors rather than judges to decide how long convicts will be imprisoned. Because the minimum sentences are statutorily imposed and non-negotiable, they empower prosecutors to issue the most illiberal of ultimatums: Plead guilty, or face a long term that can't be alleviated by mitigating factors.
Baker thinks anyone who supplies opioids to a person who then dies of an overdose should face a five-year mandatory sentence for manslaughter. But even worse laws are being debated elsewhere.
In June, legislators in Pennsylvania introduced Senate Bill 809, which includes a new one-year sentence and a $5,000 fine for any drug dealer caught with three doses or more of naloxone. Why is this such a hideous addition to the books? Because the substance in question is a drug that...