Score one for justice, or maybe irony: An Allentown, Pa., man, described by prosecutors as the “scariest sex offender this community has ever seen,” was sentenced in November to 18 months in jail – for growing marijuana.

Clyde RuppelClyde Ruppel, 74, pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to possession of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was immediately sentenced to between nine and 18 months in the Lehigh County Jail. Inmates sent to jails typically serve no more than 12 months behind bars, while longer terms are served in prison, so it’s likely Ruppel will be out within a year.

Even so, he could do nearly as much time for growing marijuana as he did for stalking a 13-year-old boy. That crime, which earned him the label of scariest sex offender, resulted in a term of between one and two years in prison. Because Ruppel has already served a year of that sentence, he was granted parole as part of his new plea deal.

A sex offender is a sex offender, and any predator who pursues a teenage boy belongs behind bars. But it’s more than a little telling that prosecutors could make a stronger case for marijuana cultivation than they could for the more serious felonies Ruppel allegedly committed.

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Flawed criminal justice system

That’s probably because it’s notoriously easy to make even the sketchiest of drug charges stick yet almost impossible to prove a sex crime. And while anti-drug laws may be a good thing in terms of nabbing pedophiles, they’re less useful when it comes to fixing the nation’s troubled criminal justice system.

Ruppel was already up for parole in December, and his lawyer argued that early parole would allow him to stay in the jail rather than moving him to prison. Lehigh County Judge William E. Ford agreed with Ruppel’s public defenders, who argued children would be safer if Ruppel’s eventual probation is closely monitored by a local officer.

Ruppel has a long history of sex crimes involving children. According to prosecutors, his convictions began in 1965 and include several child rapes. He was convicted in 1995 of raping a disabled 8-year-old boy and his 9-year-old brother. The next year he pleaded guilty to raping two boys on 12 separate occasions in local parks. The judge in that case labeled Ruppel a “classic pedophile” and sentenced him to between six and 15 years in prison.

Another in a long list of convictions

weed plantThe latest plea followed a string of incidents involving the 13-year-old boy, a neighbor. Police say Ruppel watched the boy for two years and sent him letters and flowers. Ruppel was accused of following the boy as he walked to and from school, and the teen’s father said he repeatedly warned him to stay away.

The stalking investigation led police to search Ruppel’s apartment last year. Inside they found seven cannabis plants, grow equipment, and packaging materials. His lawyer said he used the drug to treat an old back injury.

No one believes that, just like no one is clamoring for Ruppel’s release. But it’s downright silly, if not a little offensive, that the justice system relies on flimsy marijuana charges to send pedophiles to jail. Among the many, many things Mr. Ruppel has done wrong in his life, surely cannabis ranks at the bottom of the list.

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