Back in the day, life in prison was a sentence handed out to murderers, rapists, and repeat violent offenders.

Today, life in prison is seen as a perfectly appropriate sentence for putting together willing buyers and willing sellers of certain drugs– a malum prohibitum crime in which there are no victims. Unless, of course, you are one of those government apparatchiks who believe that helping people do things considered unhealthy is the worst sort of crime imaginable:

Ross Ulbricht, the convicted founder of Silk Road, has been sentenced to life in prison for running the underground online drug bazaar, signaling the government’s seriousness in combating Internet crime.

The punishment is a heavy price to pay for the 31-year-old, who had pleaded with the judge to spare him his old age and “leave a small light at the end of the tunnel.”

The sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest followed an emotional three-hour hearing. Judge Forrest said she spent more than 100 hours grappling with the appropriate sentence, calling the decision “very, very difficult.”

But ultimately, she gave Mr. Ulbricht the harshest sentence allowed under the law, saying Silk Road was “an assault on the public health of our communities” by making it easy for people around the world to buy illegal drugs.

It ought to be even easier, and it ought to be far cheaper. Illegal drugs are expensive not because of their innate worth, but because they are illegal. What is an assault on the public health of our communities is imprisoning non-violent citizens in dangerous and awful places for the “crime” of what the government considers self harm.

Tobacco, alcohol, sugar, flour, salt and junk food can also be seen as bad for people’s health, and I see no moral distinction between imprisoning buyers and sellers of such things and buyers and sellers of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.

(OK, maybe that was a poor analogy. I forgot that selling cigarettes can  get you killed by police.)

MORE: Glenn Reynolds weighs in:

IF HE’D BEEN A CHILD MOLESTER, HE’D HAVE GOTTEN LESS TIME. IF HE’D BEEN AL SHARPTON, HE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN PROSECUTED.

Relativism has become so relative that no wonder the left avoids it.