By The Conversation
In the long-running television drama “Breaking Bad,” viewers watched the moral devolution of Walter White, a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who tried to provide for the financial future of his family by cooking methamphetamine. He changed from a good man caught in a bad situation into a sociopathic offender who ruled over a crystal meth empire.
Walter White represents the sort of drug offender who justifies serious punishment. He earned enormous amounts of money by producing and distributing vast amounts of harmful drugs.
U.S. drug laws are designed as if every offender was a dedicated criminal like Walter White, treating the possession or sale of even small quantities of illegal drugs as a serious crime requiring serious punishment.
I have studied the war on drugs for a number of years. Last December, my colleagues and I published a study on U.S. drug arrests, showing that roughly two out of every three arrests by state and local law enforcement target small-time offenders who are carrying less than a gram of illegal drugs.