Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) recently chronicled lawmakers’ rush in the 1950s to enact tough mandatory minimum sentences for what they saw as the viral spread of illegal drugs throughout the country. The most frightening of these substances, marijuana, was blamed for a rise in “sadistic” murders and gruesome sex crimes, says the Washington Post. Twenty years later, during the administration of President Richard Nixon, many of these mandatory minimums were repealed after lawmakers gathered enough evidence to show that they did not reduce crime or drug consumption and that they served primarily to usurp the power of judges to tailor punishments to crimes.
In the 1980s Congress again turned to mandatory minimums to combat a growing and frightening problem involving another relatively unknown drug, crack cocaine, and the crime wave that accompanied it. The result: Judges were forced to sentence first-time nonviolent offenders to unconscionably long prison terms. In an editorial, the Post says that next year, Congress “should revisit mandatory minimums and consider their repeal, as their predecessors did in 1970, once a new administration takes over.”