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Canadian Tories' Mandatory Minimum Drug Bill Draws Stiff Opposition, But Can It Be Stopped?

Canada's Conservative federal government last week introduced legislation -- bill C-26 -- that would create mandatory prison sentences for drug trafficking and drug producing offenses, including marijuana cultivation. The move marks a firm embrace of US-style drug war policies by the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper and comes as part of a larger "tough on crime" legislative package. While the measure has strong support among Harper's culturally conservative base and the law enforcement community, it has also excited a firestorm of opposition, and efforts to move it through parliament are sure to result in a battle royal.

But the Harper drug bill will advance -- or not -- within the context of a minority government able to wield the threat of any early call for elections against a Liberal opposition party that doesn't think it is up to the challenge just now. Because Harper's is a minority government, it will need the support of some opposition members to pass, and whether the Liberals will want to make tougher sentences for drug offenders a make or break issue remains to be seen.

While New Democratic Party (NDP) drug policy critic MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) has already denounced the measure, neither the Liberals nor the Bloc Québecois have issued statements on it. Nor had either party responded to Chronicle requests for comment by press time.

"Drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities must face tougher penalties," said Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson in a statement announcing the legislation. "This is why our government is moving to impose mandatory jail time for serious drug offenses that involve organized crime, violence or youth."

According to the justice minister, the legislation will amend Canada's drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to include the following mandatory minimum sentences and other enhanced penalties:

  • A one-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as marijuana when carried out for organized crime purposes, or when a weapon or violence is involved;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for the offense of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants;
  • The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment; and
  • Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking GHB and flunitrazepam (most commonly known as date-rape drugs).

"Drugs are dangerous and destructive, yet we see Canadian youth being exposed to and taking drugs at such young ages, and grow-ops and drug labs appearing in our residential areas," said Minister Nicholson. "By introducing these changes, our message is clear: if you sell or produce drugs -- you'll pay with jail time."

According to a justice ministry backgrounder on the legislation, marijuana trafficking offenses involving at least three kilograms of weed would be subject to one- or two-year mandatory minimum sentences if "aggravating factors" are present. To earn a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, the offense would have to be "for the benefit of organized crime," involve the use or threat of force or violence, or be committed by someone convicted of a similar offense within the past 10 years. Aggravating factors that can garner a two-year mandatory minimum include trafficking in a prison, in or near a school or "near an area normally frequented by youth," in concert to a youth, or selling to a youth.

The proposed legislation also includes mandatory minimum sentences for any marijuana cultivation offense -- if "the offense is committed for the purpose of trafficking." For up to 200 plants, it's six months mandatory jail time; for 201-500 plants, it's one year in jail; and for more than 500 plants, it's a two-year mandatory minimum. The penalties increase to nine months, 18 months, and 36 months, respectively, if "health and safety factors" are involved. Those factors include using someone else's property to commit the offense, creating a potential health or safety hazard to children, creating a potential public safety hazard in residential areas, or setting traps.

"How fast can we go backwards?" asked attorney and University of Ottawa criminology professor Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. "The government is lurching from mistake to mistake on drug policy issues. The Canadian Supreme Court shot down a mandatory minimum seven-year penalty for importing narcotics, and now this government is trying to slip in and establish mandatory minimums that will meet constitutional muster. It is the wrong thing to do in terms of a sensible drug policy," he said.

The legislation could have unintended consequences if it passes, Oscapella said. "By bumping up penalties from seven to 14 years for growing cannabis, it could scare away the "Ma and Pa" operators and leave the field open for organized crime. This bill acts as a broom to sweep out the minor players, and who will fill that gap?"

"This bill will make George W. Bush very happy," said the NDP's Davies. "He will know that at least Stephen Harper is following his lead. The bill has all the dirty hallmarks of the so called 'war on drugs' that has been raging in the United Sates for close to 40 years. As in the US, the rhetoric and spin on this bill plays on fears of drug pushers, especially regarding youth, as the bill promises to get tough on traffickers and dealers, and to protect our children in and around school premises."

Too bad it won't work, said Davies. "The only problem is, as history and reality shows us, this heavy handed reliance on law enforcement is not only a failure; it is a colossal failure, economically, socially, and culturally. Law enforcement regarding drugs typically targets low level dealers and users, and ironically re-enforces the monopoly of organized crime and the drug kingpins, who either escape enforcement or are in the best position to negotiate deals."

The legislation wasn't winning any kudos from Canada's cannabis community, either. "While being portrayed as balanced in government talking points, this legislation is anything but," said Tim Meehan of Patients Against Ignorance and Discrimination on Cannabis, a recently formed medical marijuana advocacy organization based in Ontario. "Unlike the de facto leniency Canadians mostly get before the courts if they have a very small home garden, in this bill there is no personal growing exemption -- even one plant will get you six months, which is effectively nine months unless you are growing in your own house, in a rural area, and are miles from schools or even a park where kids hang out."

"They define organized crime as at least three people operating to the benefit of at least one," pointed out Cannabis Culture magazine publisher Marc Emery, perhaps Canada's best known marijuana advocate. "That means if you grow a plant and give some to me and I sell some to someone else, we're now organized crime. If you're growing a few plants for sale, that's a nine-month mandatory minimum and they take your kids away. They're going to need a new prison in British Columbia every year if this passes."

Emery also predicted other unintended consequences. "The price will go up within a year of passage, and that will cause us to be importing weed from the US for the first time ever," he prophesied.

But, of course, the bill does have its supporters, not only among the Conservative base, but also among powerful law enforcement organizations. "We support the legislation," said Fredericton, New Brunswick Police Chief Barry MacKnight, head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. "Our overall position is that there must be a balanced approach to the drug problem, and mandatory minimum sentences are just part of that. A very aggressive judicial approach toward drug dealers and manufacturers is consistent with our objectives," he said. "This isn't aimed at that young person smoking a joint behind a building."

While such words may be intended to provide reassurance to the likes of Meehan and Emery, Canada's cannabis nation should not mistake the chief's attitude as one of tolerance. "When it comes to marijuana, our message is clear," said MacKnight. "The jury is in: Marijuana is a harmful drug. Clearly, we are focused on the most harmful drugs, but you can't isolate marijuana from this debate. When it comes to production and trafficking, marijuana is part of the drug subculture."

Ever the guerrilla warrior, Emery is calling for a a nationwide series of demonstrations outside parliament members' offices on December 17. "There are 308 MP offices, and we plan to have at least a dozen people outside each one of them dressed in prison uniforms and holding signs saying 'This is your child with the new Tory drug laws,'" he said. "There won't be any pot-smoking at these events -- this is about politics, not defiance -- and we'll also have people in suits handing out information. The object is to educate the MP and the public. We're telling everyone to tell their MP to stall the bill, or better yet, reverse it -- legalize pot and end prohibition."

While Emery takes the battle to the streets, others will be walking the hallways as they seek to block the bill. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has long opposed mandatory minimum sentencing, even publishing a 2006 briefing paper detailing its objections. The group's executive director, Richard Elliott, said Wednesday it would fight the bill in parliament.

"We don't know whether we'll be able to stop it, but we will try to talk to the relevant MPs and we will request to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice, as we did last year," Elliott said. "We'll also make the case as to why this is not a particularly good approach to the relevant ministers, although I doubt they will be open to hearing any criticism."

And so it will come down to the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc to stop the bill, and as the largest opposition party, the Liberals are key. With the Conservative threat to call early elections looming in the background, the question is whether the Liberals risk provoking elections over the drug bill. Don't count on it, said Elliott.

"Even if we manage to convince some Liberals this is the wrong approach, I'm not sure they're willing to fall on their swords over this particular issue," he said. "The current political situation is really quite favorable to the governing party because the opposition parties aren't ready to go."

"This is one of those gut-reaction issues," said Oscapella. "When you talk about how we have to tough on drugs, politicians tend to tag along. But it's very important that this bill be blocked; once you have mandatory minimums, they are very difficult to get rid of."

To that end, look for a growing coalition of opponents to emerge and attempt to coordinate. Some portions of the opposition parties will join the fight, as will civil society organizations, and perhaps, given the costs they would have to bear, some provincial governments. But they need to organize quickly; the Conservatives could move fast.

"I suspect this will be one of their top priorities," said Elliott. "They can move this quickly, and I suspect there will be committee hearings early next year, and after that, a vote by the House on a final reading," he predicted.

"This is about creating the perception they are tough on crime," Elliott said. "Unfortunately, we are heading more in your direction with this legislation, and this will only make matters worse."

"These are frightening times," said Oscapella. "We look down and what a colossal failure these policies have been in the US and say, 'Hey, let's do that, too.'"

Death Penalty: More Executions in Iran, More Death Sentences in Vietnam

The use of the death penalty against drug offenders continues at a brisk pace in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In the past week, Iran executed five more drug offenders, while in Vietnam, prosecutors demanded 11 death sentences for traffickers and the courts upheld one more.

According to the international anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, Iranian authorities executed five men November 20 in the eastern city of Birjand for distributing 146 kilos of narcotics. The men were not named. The following day, a man identified only by his first name, Gholam Reza, was hanged in Qom for trafficking in 90 kilos of narcotics.

The same day Iran executed the five men in Birjand, a United Nations General Assembly committee passed a non-binding resolution urging Iran to "abolish, in law and in practice, public executions and other executions carried out in the absence of respect for internationally recognized standards."

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese justice system has been busily calling for and upholding drug trafficking death sentences, too. On November 21, a court in Ho Chi Minh City threw out the appeal of Australian-born Tony Manh, 40, and upheld his death sentence for trafficking two pounds of heroin. He had been arrested at Tan Son Nhat airport after security officers found the heroin hidden on his body as he prepared to board a plane for Sydney.

And Wednesday, prosecutors in Hanoi called for the death penalty to be imposed on 11 people involved in an organization that smuggled 416 kilos of heroin. Death sentences were demanded for ringleader Luong Ngoc Lap and 10 of his lieutenants, while prosecutors demanded life sentences for seven others and 18-to-20 years in prison for three more. The call for the death penalty and other sentences came at the end of a four-day trial in what is northern Vietnam's largest drug case ever.

Sentencing: US Prison Population Could Be Cut in Half With Four Humane Reforms, Including Drug Decriminalization, Report Says

The United States, home of the world's largest prison population, both per capita and in real terms, could save $20 billion a year and cut that population in half by adopting a handful of systemic reforms, including decriminalizing drug possession, said a prestigious group of social scientists in a report released Monday. Noting that the US prison population had grown eightfold since 1970, steadily increasing whether crimes rates were going up or down, the report called US prisons a "self-fueling system."

The report, Unlocking America was released by the JFA Institute, a Washington, DC, research organization that studies issues related to corrections and penal populations. It was authored by eight prominent criminologists and James Austin, president of JFA.

The massive increase in imprisonment in the past four decades has had little impact on crime, but has imposed substantial costs on society -- and on offenders and their families, the report found. "Our contemporary laws and justice system practices exacerbate the crime problem, unnecessarily damage the lives of millions of people (and) waste tens of billions of dollars each year," it said.

Referring to President Bush's pardon of disgraced former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the report noted: "President Bush was right. A prison sentence for Lewis "Scooter" Libby was excessive -- so too was the long three year probation term. But while he was at it, President Bush should have commuted the sentences of hundreds of thousands of Americans who each year have also received prison sentences for crimes that pose little if any danger or harm to our society."

Those people are the victims of what the authors described as "three key myths" that drive criminal justice policy: That there are "career criminals" who can be identified and imprisoned to reduce crime, that tougher penalties are needed to protect the public from "dangerous criminals," and that tougher penalties will deter criminals. The authors devote extensive space to debunking those policy-driving misconceptions.

"The system is almost feeding on itself now. It takes years and years and years to get out of this system and we do not see any positive impact on the crime rates," Austin, a coauthor of the report, told a news conference.

A more humane, less expensive, and greatly reduced prison system could be achieved by enacting four fundamental reforms, the report concluded. They are:

  • Reduce time served in prison.
  • Eliminate the use of prison for parole or probation technical violators.
  • Reduce the length of parole and probation supervision periods.
  • Decriminalize "victimless" crimes, particularly those related to drug use and abuse.

Regarding decriminalizing drug offenses, the report noted: "In recent years, behaviors have been criminalized that are not dangerous and pose little if any threat to others. A large group of people are currently serving time for behaviors that have been criminalized to protect people from themselves. Their offenses involved the consent of all immediate parties to the transaction. Common examples in American history have included abortion, gambling, illicit sexual conduct that does not involve coercion (e.g., prostitution and, until recently, homosexual activity), and the sale and possession of recreational drugs. According to the US Department of Justice, approximately 30-40% of all current prison admissions involve crimes that have no direct or obvious victim other than the perpetrator. The drug category constitutes the largest offense category, with 31% of all prison admissions resulting from such crimes."

The drug war is futile and has nasty collateral consequences, the report concluded. "Every time a dealer is taken out of circulation by a prison sentence, a new dealer is drawn in by the lure of large profits. The prosecution and imprisonment of low-level traffickers has increased racial disparities, and is the largest factor contributing to the rapid rise in imprisonment rates for women. Dealers' use of violence to eliminate competition helps to sustain the myth linking drug use to violence. Notwithstanding our extraordinary effort to discourage the use and sale of illegal drugs, they remain widely available and widely used."

Better than a prison-filling policy of prohibition, would be a regulatory approach to drugs, the report said. "Regulatory approaches, such as are now used for drugs that are not illegal should be given serious consideration. The success of recent referenda in several states allowing medical use of marijuana suggests that the public opinion may be changing."

Public opinion would change even faster if more people read this report. It is a scathing indictment of a failed and inhumane set of criminal justice and drug policies. $20 billion a year in savings from adopting the suggested reforms is easily quantifiable; the reduction in human suffering by reducing the prison population in half, while equally significant, is not so easily measured.

Canada: Federal Government Introduces Anti-Drug Legislation

Canada's Conservative federal government Tuesday introduced legislation that would create mandatory prison sentences for drug trafficking and drug producing offenses, including marijuana cultivation. The move marks a firm embrace of US-style drug war policies by the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper and comes as part of a larger "tough on crime" legislative package.

"Drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities must face tougher penalties," said Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson in a statement announcing the legislation. "This is why our government is moving to impose mandatory jail time for serious drug offenses that involve organized crime, violence or youth."

According to the justice minister, the legislation will amend Canada's drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to include the following mandatory minimum sentences and other enhanced penalties:

  • A one-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as marijuana when carried out for organized crime purposes, or when a weapon or violence is involved;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth;
  • A two-year mandatory prison sentence will be imposed for the offense of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants;
  • The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment; and
  • Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking GHB and flunitrazepam (most commonly known as date-rape drugs).

"Drugs are dangerous and destructive, yet we see Canadian youth being exposed to and taking drugs at such young ages, and grow-ops and drug labs appearing in our residential areas," said Minister Nicholson. "By introducing these changes, our message is clear: if you sell or produce drugs -- you'll pay with jail time."

According to a justice ministry backgrounder on the legislation, marijuana trafficking offenses involving at least three kilograms of weed would be subject to one- or two-year mandatory minimum sentences if "aggravating factors" are present. To earn a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, the offense would have to be "for the benefit of organized crime," involve the use or threat of force or violence, or be committed by someone convicted of a similar offense within the past 10 years. Aggravating factors that can garner a two-year mandatory minimum include trafficking in a prison, in or near a school or "near an area normally frequented by youth," in concert to a youth, or selling to a youth.

The proposed legislation also includes mandatory minimum sentences for any marijuana cultivation offense -- if "the offense is committed for the purpose of trafficking." For up to 200 plants, it's six months mandatory jail time; for 201-500 plants, it's one year in jail; and for more than 500 plants, it's a two-year mandatory minimum. The penalties increase to nine months, 18 months, and 36 months, respectively, if "health and safety factors" are involved. Those factors include using someone else's property to commit the offense, creating a potential health or safety hazard to children, creating a potential public safety hazard in residential areas, or setting traps.

The proposed legislation also doubles the maximum sentences for marijuana growing or trafficking offenses from seven to 14 years.

The Harper government's legislation is a direct attack on Canada's cannabis culture, the most-friendly in the West, according to United Nations usage statistics. Look for a battle royal over this proposed step backward, and look for a Drug War Chronicle feature article on the coming battle next week.

JFA Press Release: New Report Calls for Major Reforms to Reduce America's Soaring Prison Population

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 19, 2007 CONTACT: Ed Hatcher, 301-656-0348 New Report Calls for Major Reforms to Reduce America’s Soaring Prison Population Leading criminologists recommend shorter length of stay in prison and elimination of prison time for technical parole and probation violations WASHINGTON, D.C. – Burdened by the world’s largest prison population, which has grown six-fold in the past 35 years, the United States should reform its criminal justice system by sending fewer people to prison and reducing the time they serve, a major new report concludes. “Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population,” is co-authored by nine leading criminology and penal experts from around the country and relies on a thorough review of recent research into crime and incarceration. “The number of people incarcerated has skyrocketed over the past three decades and yet there is little if any scientific evidence of a causal relationship between crime rates and incarceration rates," said James Austin, president of the JFA Institute and report co-author. "A major reason for the rise in prison populations is longer prison terms. But there is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer. The report provides a practical roadmap for reducing prison populations and more effectively addressing crime by adopting sentencing policies that are now being used in a number of red and blue states." The report finds that putting more people in prison is financially wasteful, disproportionately burdens the poor and minorities, and has limited impact on recidivism and crime rates. In response, it calls for reducing prison sentences and eliminating prison terms for people who violate the terms of their probation or parole without committing new crimes. “People who break the law must be held accountable, but many of those currently incarcerated should receive alternative forms of punishment, and those who are sent to prison must spend a shorter period incarcerated before coming home to our communities,” the report says. Released by the JFA Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit organization focused on research-based solutions to criminal justice issues, the report also calls for decriminalizing the possession and sale of recreational drugs. The researchers say that widespread incarceration of people involved in the drug market has only fueled more violence and has not reduced the demand for drugs. “Unlocking America” also calls for improving prison conditions by reducing overcrowding and expanding access to health care, academic and vocational programs for incarcerated people to help them succeed in life after prison and increase public health and safety. A final recommendation calls on states to ease the transition from prison to free society by lifting barriers to employment and restoring voting rights so that people coming out of prison can be productive members of the workforce and society. The report’s recommendations, if implemented nationally, would gradually and safely reduce the nation’s prison and jail populations by half and generate annual savings of $20 billion, money that could be reinvested in more promising crime-prevention strategies. The authors of the report are convinced that the United States needs a different strategy for justice reform. Approximately 2.2 million people are now in jail or prison. The number serving sentences in state and federal prisons has grown from 196,000 in 1972 to more than 1.4 million today. An additional 750,000 people are in local jails awaiting trial or serving time for less-serious crimes. The number is growing and shows no signs of leveling off. “Our criminal laws and criminal justice policies and practices exacerbate the crime problem, unnecessarily damage the lives of millions of people, and worsen living conditions in low-income neighborhoods of American cities,” the report states. Under current sentencing policies, the state and federal prison populations will grow by another 192,000 prisoners over the next five years, according to the report. Such an increase will force the nation to spend an additional $27.5 billion in prison construction and operation costs over the five-year period, in addition to the $60 billion now spent annually on corrections. This growth in imprisonment is largely due not to rising crime rates but to changes in sentencing policy that led to dramatic increases in the numbers of felony convictions. This resulted in more prison sentences and increasing the length of the prison stays themselves. The report cites extensive research suggesting there is little relationship between fluctuations in crime rates and incarceration rates. The study highlights that minorities are more likely to be imprisoned than whites, noting that incarceration rates for blacks and Latinos are six times higher than for whites. If incarceration rates were race neutral, prison populations would drop by half. The report’s authors are: James Austin, president, the JFA Institute; Todd Clear, professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Troy Duster, professor, New York University; David F. Greenberg, professor, New York University; John Irwin, professor emeritus, San Francisco State University; Candace McCoy, professor, City University of New York; Alan Mobley, assistant professor, San Diego State University; Barbara Owen, professor, California State University, Fresno; and Joshua Page, assistant professor, University of Minnesota. For copies of the report, visit: www.jfa-associates.com/
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Australia: Queensland to Increase Drug Penalties

The government of Queensland is preparing to try more of the same old-same old in its ongoing, futile effort to wipe out drug use and dealing. The state cabinet Monday approved amendments to the Drugs Misuse Act that will reschedule a number of drugs into more dangerous classifications, which will result in an increase in penalties for offenses committed concerning those substances.

Under the bill, ecstasy and PMA, a dangerous drug sometimes substituted for ecstasy and known in Australia's superheated drug lexicon as "death," will be moved from Schedule II to Schedule I, meaning maximum penalties for supplying, trafficking, or possessing the drugs will increase from 20 to 25 years.

"Under the bill, the schedule two drugs, ecstasy and death, will be reclassified as schedule one drugs, which carry greater penalties," Premier Anna Bligh said.

A handful of other drugs are also being rescheduled, Bligh said. "Valium and Serepax, as well as drugs previously in Schedule IIA of the laws, such as steroids, Rohypnol and ephedrine, would be added to Schedule II, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' jail for unlawful possession, supply or trafficking."

But wait, there's more, said Attorney-General Kerry Shine, announcing that the government will introduce the concept of "analogs" into the laws. "It will mean that drugs which are not named in the schedules, but have similar structure and pharmacological effect, will attract the same penalties," Mr. Shine said.

And that's not all. The law will also create new offenses for the supply and production of precursor drugs like pseudoephedrine, and the equipment used in the production of illegal drugs, such as pill presses.

Now, that ought to end the drug problem in Queensland. Stay tuned.

Death Penalty: Two More Executed for Drug Trafficking in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia continued its bid to remain in the top ranks among countries who execute people for drug offenses, beheading two Pakistanis in different parts of the country last week. Along with Iran, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Saudi Arabia is among the most prolific killers of drug law violators.

According to the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain, citing Saudi state media sources, Pakistani citizen Bhrour Sadbar Khan was executed November 8 in Riyadh for smuggling heroin into the kingdom. Pakistani citizen Qismata Qul Rasul Khan was executed November 10 in the eastern city of Damman after being convicted of smuggling heroin and hashish into the kingdom.

According to the anti-death penalty group, Saudi Arabia has executed dozens of people each year this decade, with yearly figures ranging from a low of 38 in 2004 and a high of 90 in 2005. So far, 49 people have been executed this year. It is unclear how many were drug offenders.

FAMM Says: Make crack changes retroactive!

FAMM urges Sentencing Commission to make crack cocaine guideline amendment retroactive

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the nation's leading sentencing reform organization with 13,000 members, today calls on the U.S. Sentencing Commission to make retroactive the crack cocaine guideline amendment that went into effect on November 1. FAMM has spearheaded the effort to make the crack cocaine guideline change apply to people already in prison, helping generate over 30,000 letters to the Sentencing Commission in support of retroactivity.

On November 13, FAMM members from across the country will attend the Commission's public hearing on retroactivity in Washington, D.C., bearing photographs of their incarcerated loved ones. FAMM president Julie Stewart will also testify at the hearing at 3:30 p.m. "Retroactivity of the crack guideline will not only affect the lives of nearly 20,000 individuals in prison but that of thousands more - mothers, fathers, daughters and sons - who anxiously wait for them to return home." said Stewart.  Click here to read Stewart's testimony to the Commission. 

Since 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has repeatedly advised Congress that there is no rational, scientific basis for the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The Commission has also identified the disparity as the "single most important" factor in longer sentences for African Americans compared to other racial groups. The criminal law committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which represents the federal judges who would administer the application of the amendment to people in prison, has written the Commission in favor of retroactivity. Click here to read the letter.

"Nearly 80 percent of defendants convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses after Nov. 1 now face sentences 16 months shorter on average, thanks to sentencing guideline reforms approved by the U.S. Sentencing Commission," said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "The Sentencing Commission must now make the change retroactive. If a sentence is sufficient to serve the purposes of punishment for defendants in the future, it is sufficient for those who were sentenced under unjust rules in the past. Clearly, justice should not turn on the date an individual is sentenced."

Many FAMM members, including Lamont and Lawrence Garrison, would benefit if the changes are made retroactive. Arrested just months after graduating from Howard University, Lamont received 19 years and Lawrence received 15 years, respectively, after being accused of conspiring to distribute crack and powder cocaine. Both brothers would receive sentence reductions between three and four years.

However, neither the new guideline nor making it retroactive will impact the statutory 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. "Congress must act to address the mandatory minimums that created the cocaine sentencing disparity in 1986 in order to ensure equal justice for all defendants," said Stewart.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is the national voice for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. FAMM shines a light on the human face of sentencing, advocate for state and federal sentencing reform, and mobilize thousands of individuals and families whose lives are adversely affected by unjust sentences.

For more information, visit www.famm.org or email media@famm.org.

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Public Hearing: New York State Commission On Sentencing Reform

Questions about this hearing may be directed to Patti Greco of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services at (518) 485-6084. Registration to testify and attend is required. A press conference and rally sponsored by the Real Reform Coalition will take place at 9:00 AM.
Date: 
Tue, 11/13/2007 - 9:30am - 4:30pm
Location: 
42 West 44th Street
New York, NY
United States

Death Penalty: Two More Drug Offenders Executed in Iran

Two more drug offenders were executed in Iran, this time in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchstan, the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain reported, citing accounts in Iranian state media. The executions come a week after Iranian authorities executed five men for violent crimes. Iranian authorities say most executions are for drug trafficking, but human rights groups have claimed that some people put to death for ordinary crimes, particularly drug crimes, are actually political opponents of the regime.

Jomeh Gomshadzehi was hanged in the city of Zahedan after being arrested with 3,300 kilos of opium, 84 kilos heroin, and 95 kilos of morphine. The state news agency IRNA identified him as a notorious drug trafficker who sent narcotics to Turkey and Arab states in the Gulf. It said that while trafficking drugs four years ago, he killed a policeman and then escaped to Dubai.

The second man, identified as Esmail Barani Piranvand, was sentenced to death in a prison in Iranshahr in the same province for the possession of 2.5 kilos of heroin, the state television website said.

Under Iranian law, the death penalty can be imposed for possession of more than 30 grams of heroin or five kilos of opium. Other death penalty offenses in Iran include blasphemy; apostasy; adultery; prostitution; homosexuality; and plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime, as well as murder, rape, and robbery.

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