Hastings Law Journal


In October of 1988 Congress passed the Anti-drug Abuse Act of 1988. Among its provisions are two new "user accountability" measures designed to attack the demand side of the war on drugs. One measure will impose civil fines of up to $10,000 for casual drug users. The second measure will give judges the discretion to deny federal benefits, such as student loans, to people convicted of drug possession or trafficking. This Note argues that these measures were rushed through Congress out of an election year desire to look tough on drugs. This Note argues that the provision for civil fines is an unconstitutional attempt to impose a criminal penalty through the civil system and denies individuals their due process rights. This Note also maintains that the denial of federal benefits will cause more harm than good by preventing individuals from rehabilitating and reinforcing a cycle of poverty. The Note analyzes the measure against the goals of punishment and concludes that the measure does not advance those goals. The Note urges a more balanced approach to the war on drugs, including focusing on education and treatment rather than punishment, and examining the systemic problems that cause drug abuse.

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