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Rape, Armed Robbery, Extortion Less Serious Than Selling $1,500 Worth of LSD Under Federal Law


January 1993

The words of one popular song by the veteran rock group The Grateful Dead have proven sadly prophetic for a growing number of their fans, who have become hated targets of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and some local law enforcement authorities (Dennis Cauchon, "Attack on Deadheads is no Hallucination: Band's Followers Handed Stiff LSD Sentences," USA Today, 12/17/92, 11A). See brief summary and additional citation in NewsBriefs December 1992.

"Busted ... set up like a bowlin' pin, knocked down, gets to where it's been, they just won't let you be," are lyrics from their song "Truckin." Despite the often sensational negative press given to the rare adverse reaction to LSD, years of scientific research suggest that despite its capacity to profoundly alterconsciousness, LSD is a relatively benign drug, with virtually no addiction potential and low toxicity.

The properties of the drug and the tendency of some users, particularly those who ardently follow The Grateful Dead, to openly praise its use, have made the drug a hated symbol for federal law enforcement authorities who, according to DEA agent Gene Haislip, will continue to pursue the LSD culture "until this whole thing turns around."

With efforts to further stem cocaine use and trafficking increasingly frustrated, and a burgeoning heroin problem, DEA has chosen to focus on LSD and marijuana, drugs whose users and purveyors are usually more obvious and less violent, providing easy targets with relatively little risk to law enforcement authorities. Since January 1990, DEA has tripled spending, personnel, and arrests for LSD, often focusing on Grateful Dead concerts where the drug is sold or given away to fellow Deadheads -- the term used to describe ardent followers of the band.

An in-depth feature in USA Today by Dennis Cauchon noted that since federal law permits sentencing by weight to include the carrier used to dilute a drug, LSD sentences often are greatly exaggerated because the weight of the carrier medium, such as paper or a tablet, greatly exceeds the weight of the drug. Hence the same number of doses may result in sentences ranging from 10 months to 16 years under federal law, a disparity yet to be remedied.

Cauchon provided a table comparing minimum and maximum sentences for various first-time offenses under federal law:

Crime Minimum Maximum
LSD possession 10.1 years 13.9 years
Attempted murder with harm 6.5 years 8.1 years
Rape 5.8 years 7.2 years
Armed robbery with a gun 4.7 years 5.9 years
Kidnapping 4.2 years 5.2 years
Theft of $80 million or more 4.2 years 5.2 years
Extortion 2.2 years 2.7 years
Burglary carrying a gun 2.0 years 2.5 years
Taking a bribe 0.5 years 1.0 years
Blackmail 0.3 years 0.8 years

About 1,500 to 2,000 Deadheads are now in prison, compared to about 100 four years ago. Out of concern for the disproportionate number of Deadheads being arrested, the Rex Foundation last summer provided a $10,000 grant to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which is fighting the federal minimum sentencing provisions (See NewsBriefs October 1992). -- [RBK]