Drugs are the greatest threat to American society, and Utah is not immune to their effect, the U.S. Attorney for Utah told members of the Layton Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Dee Benson, appointed the state's top federal law enforcement official seven months ago, said drug abuse in Utah is as bad, perhaps even worse among school-age children, as in Washington, D.C.Benson told the chamber members that surveys show the rate of drug use in Utah is between 10 percent and 15 percent of the population, which is on par with national figures.
Drug dealers and runners are being prosecuted by his office instead of at the state level because federal drug laws are harsher, with longer minimum mandatory sentences, Benson said.
Drug dealers who face a five-year minimum mandatory sentence under federal law because a firearm was involved may get six months or at the most a year in jail under state law, which Benson said is not tough enough, even for a first offense.
Prosecuting drug offenses increases his caseload beyond what it should be, Benson said, adding that state laws should be made more strict.
He called proposals to decriminalize or legalize certain drugs "absolutely preposterous" and not worthy of debate. "I can't begin to tell you what a bad idea I think that is," he said, pointing out decriminalization in other countries and states has increased, not decreased, drug abuse.
Benson said when he returned to his native Utah after spending several years in the nation's capital he was surprised at the level of criminal activity in the state.
Securities fraud and penny stock manipulations are rampant because of lax state laws and what Benson described as "a certain amount of gullibility of some segments of our community."
Utah has a high rate of bankruptcy filings, including a lot of fraudulent ones, Benson said, and the state is "a fertile ground for criminal tax evasion."
And the state's incidence of violent crime such as bank robberies and child abuse is also high, the attorney said.
There are some bright spots, however, according to Benson. Utah has a good record of prosecuting pornography and obscenity and is the only state that has no active direct outlet for dealing pornography to the public.
And there is an increasingly strong message being sent to drug users that their behavior not acceptable, he said.