As U.S. Sen. Rand Paul objects to legislation that seeks to ban synthetic drugs on the grounds that drug laws should be state and local issues and federal sentencing guidelines are too harsh, he also cites in a letter to two other senators the proliferation of Islam in the prison system among his arguments against federal measures to ban the substances.
In a four-page Dec. 14 letter to U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, obtained recently by the Daily News, Paul explains that one of the reasons he objects to three Senate bills dealing with synthetic drugs is that sending people to prison could lead to more people turning to the Islamic faith.
“The stigma of incarceration can make it practically impossible for many people to find work after they are finally released from prison,” Paul writes in his letter. “In addition, there has been much discussion in the Senate regarding combatting radical Islam. Notably, Islam is currently the fastest-growing religion among prisoners in the United States. Sending people – often young people – who may already come from broken homes and difficult family situations into a brutal prison environment is potentially a breeding ground for radicalization.”
Klobuchar and Grassley, who support a bipartisan package of bills that would ban synthetic drugs, recently took to the Senate floor to ask that the hold on the bills be lifted, according to an online news release posted to Klobuchar’s website. Multiple calls to Klobuchar’s spokeswoman were not returned.
While Paul said Friday in a telephone interview that he stands by what he wrote to Grassley and Klobuchar, he also said Islam conversion in prisons “is not why I’m opposing this bill.”
He instead reiterated that his main reason for holding up the synthetic drug legislation is that federal penalties for drug law violations are “disproportionate” to the crime and federal sentencing requirements don’t allow room for judicial discretion in sentencing.
“The main reason we are opposing this is someone could be kept in prison for 20 years,” Paul said.
Bowling Green attorney David Broderick, who has practiced law here for nearly 40 years and defended people charged criminally in federal court, disagrees with the notion that federal judges don’t have discretion in handing down sentences. “Some time ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the sentencing guidelines were not mandatory but were simply guidelines,” Broderick said.
Certain crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences, but judges have the option of amending charges, he said.
Paul, a medical doctor and Republican from Bowling Green, admits holding up the legislation that would ban synthetic drugs but said that Senate Democrats are “looking for the easy way out” in seeking to pass the bills by unanimous consent.
“If they want a vote, they are the majority party. They can call for a vote anytime,” he said.
The Senate could schedule a cloture vote to move forward on the issue. That would require a three-fifths vote of the full Senate for passage – usually 60 votes.
Meanwhile, Paul’s hold on the legislation has drawn the ire of narcotics officers in his own backyard.
Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force Director Tommy Loving, who is also executive director of the Kentucky Narcotics Officers’ Association, recently spoke by phone with one of Paul's representatives to ask that Paul release the bills.
“The reason we feel this is important is a federal law addressing synthetic drugs will allow the (Drug Enforcement Administration) to attempt to stop these at the source as they come into the country,” Loving said.
Loving has learned that the synthetic drugs making their way to the streets here are coming in from Europe and China.
“State and local law enforcement can address the issue at the local level at places like the (Prince) Hookah Lounge. But the DEA can be much more effective in cutting this off at the source,” Loving said.
Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron is perplexed by Paul’s stance on the issue.
“This is very important legislation that will allow federal law enforcement to combat this rapidly growing problem at the importation and manufacturing levels,” Cohron said. “As with many things in drug enforcement, it requires investigation jointly through federal, state and local authorities.”
Cohron also soundly rejects the notion that sending people to prison will result in any sort of religious conversion.
“In the last 10 years I’ve participated in probably somewhere around 12,000 felony cases, and the answer is ‘No, we have not seen any correlation between felony sentencing and converting to any religion.’ ”