Posted on June 14, 2018



Johnson Commutation

Calls Libertarians’ Bluff


Daniel Clark



We’re all familiar with libertarians’ anecdotal evidence of the War on Drugs run amok.  It seems that practically everybody knows a guy who met a guy who heard about a guy who had no criminal record at all, until one day he got pulled over for a traffic violation, when the cops found two joints in his glove compartment and – BAM! – 20 years in the hoosegow.

Then how come the most famous victim of allegedly excessive drug prosecution is Alice Marie Johnson, whose life sentence was commuted by President Trump at the behest of celebrity activist Kim Kardashian?  If our prison walls are bulging with recreational drug users, it seems odd that the one drug offender the president decided to spring was a woman who was described as “the quintessential entrepreneur” in a cocaine distribution ring by the judge who had sentenced her.

Most news reports have presented Johnson’s own version of events as the unvarnished truth, while emphasizing the points that she’s a great-grandmother, and a nonviolent offender whose first arrest was met with a lifetime sentence.  How being a great-grandmother qualifies her for clemency in unclear.  It’s not as if she was responsible to her family in the first place, when she got involved in an illicit drug operation to cover her gambling habit.

It may have been her first conviction, but it’s not as if she had committed her crime only once, given that she was a cog in an organized criminal enterprise.  Furthermore, nonviolent does not equal nondestructive.  Facilitating the distribution of more than 20,000 kilos of cocaine onto American streets is far from a victimless crime.  There are many crimes that are literally nonviolent, including theft, counterfeiting, fraud, embezzlement, racketeering, bribery and identity theft, just to name a few.  Even some physically destructive crimes, like arson, are considered to be nonviolent, but since when does that mean we shouldn’t jail the offenders?

Nevertheless, Trump has set Johnson free, and he has indicated that he’s willing to consider more commutations and pardons.  So where are the pro-pot activists with their presumably extensive list of far more innocent people who have been left rotting in prison?  Where are all the people who have gone to the clink for the single offense of possessing a small amount of narcotics for personal consumption?

In 2014, President Obama declined a plea for clemency on Johnson’s behalf, even though he was extremely lenient toward drug offenders in general.  During his presidency, Obama pardoned 18 of them, and commuted the sentences of six more.  All but one of these were guilty of conspiracy to produce, import or distribute illegal drugs, or some combination of the three.  The lone exception was an Air Force court martial case, in which the defendant was found guilty of not only cocaine use, but also adultery (which violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and passing bad checks.

Of those 18 pardon recipients, seven had not even served any prison time, and only one had served a sentence of greater than five years.  There was not a single “guy who heard about a guy” case among the lot of them.  There’s been no word of all the harmless, first-time possession offenders who are supposedly squirting through the bars of our overcrowded prisons.

So where are they?  Since libertarians are so animated by this issue, they ought to have jumped at the chance to publicize all those alleged victims of prosecutorial overreach.  If such cases really are choking our criminal justice system as we’re often told, then they ought to be as visible as the secret NAFTA superhighway, and the Texas-sized Pacific island made of plastic grocery bags.  Well, maybe those aren’t very good examples, but you get the point.  The tales the pro-pot activists tell about the persecution of casual marijuana consumers are every bit as unrealistic as those giggling overactors from Reefer Madness.

The belief that our prisons are crammed with casual drug users whose crimes have never hurt anyone but themselves is a libertarian martyrdom fantasy.  Libertarians like to tell themselves that every time they light up, they’re openly defying the omniscient rulers of a dystopian prison state, and are thereby putting themselves at constant risk of imprisonment, torture, and drone-zapping, and are basically staring death or worse in the face on a daily basis (and … loving it!)  Seriously, fellas, you’re not that brave.  If you really thought you were putting yourselves in that kind of danger, you’d find some other way to amuse yourselves.



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