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Jefferson Morley: Justice Casualty of Drug War


February 1993

Contrasting the case of a smalltime drug dealer who received a mandatory minimum of 10 years with that of a kingpin who imported tons of cocaine but cut a deal that is likely to release him from prison sooner than the small dealer, journalist Jefferson Morley highlights the way in which drug laws work in favor of major drug traffickers while often penalizing lower level drug dealers (Jefferson Morley, "The Novice and the Kingpin: A Tale of Two Drug Dealers Who Crossed Paths With Bush," Washington Post, 1/17/93, C4).

Morley's story focuses on high-school student Keith Jackson and drug kingpin Leonel Martinez. Jackson, a smalltime dealer, sold undercover agents small quantities of cocaine on several occasions and, at the request of then-President George Bush, was setup to sell a bag of crack across from the White House as a prop for a presidential address on drugs. The bag of crack was held up by the President during his speech to symbolize omnipresent drug dealing.

Martinez was arrested after buying 800 pounds of cocaine. An ardent Republican, Martinez had donated the legal maximum of $5,000 to George Bush's campaign in 1986, and had his picture taken with Bush. Over a period of time, Martinez had given thousands of dollars to the Bush campaign through other Republican organizations, according to Morley, who comments that there was no evidence anyone accepting the money from Martinez knew he was a drug trafficker.

But Martinez, through a plea bargain, escaped the brunt of tough drug laws, and may be out of prison by 1998, while Keith Jackson will not be eligible for release until 2001. The choice of Jackson as a symbol of the drug problem, and the association of Martinez to the President, coupled with the selective application of the drug laws, point up the gross inequities in the drug war, Morley asserts.