The Senate passed a sweeping anti-drug bill Friday to crack down on both dope peddlers and casual users, create a federal death penalty for drug kingpins and test more Americans for drug use.
In an election-year effort to dry up the market for drugs, the Senate voted 88 to 2 to get tough by denying most federal benefits to drug felons and hitting so-called recreational drug users with fines reaching up to $10,000 for possessing a single marijuana cigarette.
And, on an overwhelming 77-10 vote, the Senate accepted an amendment to encourage states to devise a program for random drug testing of those applying for driver’s licenses.
“The purpose is prevention,” said Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) sponsor of the driver’s license measure. “It is our purpose to keep kids clean and keep them alive and keep alive the others who share the highways with them.”
The Senate approved nearly four dozen other amendments in a single voice vote and then took a final vote on the $2.6-billion bill, which tries to reduce both the supply and demand side of the narcotics problem.
The two-year bill, like a $2.1-billion House-passed version, increases spending for drug enforcement, interdiction, treatment and prevention but shifts the emphasis in fiscal 1990 to the demand side of the problem.
The legislation also:
- Imposes a mandatory life sentence for an individual convicted of a third drug felony and increases the penalties for narcotics offenses committed near school grounds.
- Creates a Cabinet-level “drug czar” to coordinate federal drug enforcement efforts and run the newly established National Drug Control Policy Office.
- Requires random drug testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions working for the airline, railroad, bus or trucking industries.
A single version of the legislation still must be agreed to by both chambers, but congressional leaders expect lawmakers eager to adjourn to quickly resolve differences between the two bills.
Financing the ambitious legislation remained a nagging problem, with lawmakers conceding that they would have a maximum of $450 million available for the first year of the program.
The Senate bill contains most of the provisions President Reagan considered essential to combat the war on drugs--the death penalty for those who commit drug-related murders and stiff fines for casual and hard-core users.
Liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans suffered a series of defeats Thursday in the first day of debate on the bill, losing a bid to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment and attempts to limit the use of capital punishment.
The Senate then embraced the first of three “user accountability” amendments to the popular bill, allowing the attorney general to pursue criminal or civil charges against those caught with small amounts of drugs.
The civil penalty, which could be appealed, would apply only to those without a felony conviction, and any record of the fine would be erased in three years if no other violations occurred.
“This amendment is going to do more to drive a stake in the heart of the drug industry than the death penalty and all the money we spend on enforcement,” said Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.).
“It strikes at the real drug kingpin,” he said, “the real drug kingpin who is the user.”
Under the second get-tough amendment, drug traffickers would lose benefits such as federal loans for five years, and casual users would face a one-year cutoff.
The amendment would not apply to Social Security and veterans benefits.