A couple of weeks ago, I put up a post about the absurd method in which the drug laws allow law enforcement officials to determine the quantity of an illicit drug for which a suspect can be charged. The laws aren’t written to punish offenders for the amount of a given drug they have made available to the public (or, put another way, for the amount of harm they have done). They’re written to inflict the maximum possible amount of punishment.

Here’s a good example of how that can play out, first reported by KEYE in Austin:

A Texas man accused of making and selling marijuana brownies is facing up to life in prison if convicted.
That’s because officials in Round Rock have charged him with a first-degree felony.
It’s a move that the man’s family and attorney outraged.
“It’s outrageous. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it,” Joe Lavoro, the man’s father said.
Like many familiar with the case, Joe does not understand why his son is in so much legal trouble.
The first of what may be many court appearances for Jacob Lavoro was Thursday morning.
The 19-year-old is accused of making and selling pot brownies.
He’s charged with a first degree felony.
“Five years to life? I’m sorry. I’m a law abiding citizen. I’m a conservative. I love my country. I’m a Vietnam veteran, but I’ll be ****ed. This is wrong. This is ***n wrong!” the father said.
Lavoro’s lawyer agrees.
“I was outraged. I’ve been doing this 22 years as a lawyer and I’ve got 10 years as a police officer and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Jack Holmes, Lavoro’s attorney said.
The former high school football player has a clean record.
The charge is so severe because the recipe includes hash oil.
That allows the state to use the sugar, cocoa, butter and other ingredients to determine the weight of the drugs.
“They’ve weighed baked goods in this case. It ought to be a misdemeanor,” Holmes said.

It’s unlikely that he will actually get a life sentence. But the threat of a life sentence does give the prosecutor a better hand when negotiating a plea bargain. So if the harsher sentence is unlikely but could help persuade a guilty person to admit to his or her crime, what’s the harm? Well, as it turns out, the threat of decades in prison can also be awfully persuasive in getting innocent people to plead guilty to lesser charges. 

Should this guy go to trial and lose, the ability to bring a charge that could carry life puts a heavy weight on the side of severity when the judge is determining his sentence. I’d argue that any felony conviction or prison time for selling pot brownies is outrageous. But when weighed against the possibility of life in prison, a judge and prosecutor could leave this guy with a felony record, a year in prison and five years of probation, and come off looking downright reasonable.