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Guidelines stiffened for selling ecstasy
by Karen Gullo
Mar 21, 2001
Also read the Federation of American Scientists Testimony to the US Sentencing Commission arguing that penalties for MDMA should be relaxed, not tightened. Signed by former heads of NIDA and top drug control experts: FAS Sentencing Testimony, March 2001 (cached copy)

(03-21) 06:57 PST WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Sentencing Commission stiffened guideline penalties for selling the drug ecstasy, more than tripling potential jail terms to over 6 years for people caught selling 800 pills.

The change, made Tuesday in response to a mandate from Congress, comes as a new White House drug policy report shows that ecstasy, once a drug used primarily at nightclubs, has expanded beyond the club scene and is now being sold at high schools, on the street and even at coffee shops in some cities.

The availability of ecstasy increased dramatically and more blacks and Hispanics are using the drug, said the biannual report, which chronicles the latest trends in drug use.

Edward H. Jurith, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the report's findings should serve as a warning to policy makers.

"We never again want another 'crack epidemic' to blindside this nation,'' Jurith said in a statement. "By monitoring what is happening on the streets, we can often see a problem before it becomes an epidemic.''

Ecstasy is chemically known as MDMA -- methylenedioxymethylamphetamine. Users normally experience feelings of euphoria and an increased desire to interact socially. Blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature increase dramatically.

While overall teen drug use has either fallen or stayed the same in recent years, ecstasy use has climbed. The White House report, to be presented at a Senate hearing on narcotics Wednesday, showed that more than 80 percent of officials surveyed in 20 cities around the country said ecstasy was more available than ever.

Nightclubs and dance parties known as "raves'' are the most common venue for using ecstasy, but law enforcement, epidemiologists and drug treatment providers reported that the drug was also being sold at private parties, college campuses, high schools and on the street.

In New York, officials reported sales of ecstasy and other "club drugs'' in shopping malls; in Washington, ecstasy was being sold in coffee shops, the report said.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission changed the sentencing guidelines for ecstasy after weighing the views of the Justice Department, which supported tougher sentences, and hearing from criminal lawyers and some medical researchers who opposed stiffer penalties on the grounds that they are excessive for a drug that is less dangerous than heroin or cocaine.

The new guidelines call for sentences of between 63 months to 78 months for first time offenders caught selling 800 pills. The sentence used to be 15 months to 21 months for the same amount.

The change makes ecstasy five times more serious to possess or sell than heroin on a per-dose basis, said the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"This is a wholly political act, not one based on scientific evidence,'' said Edward Mallett, the group's president. ''