Mandatory Minimums

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Obama Takes a Crack at Drug Reform (Opinion)

Drug Policy Alliance ED, Ethan Nadelmann, opines on President Obama's drug policy reform moves since entering office.
Publication/Source: 
The Nation (NY)
URL: 
http://www.thenation.com/article/154164/obama-takes-crack-drug-reform

Canada's Conservatives Try Again with Mandatory Minimum Drug Bill [FEATURE]

Canada's Conservative minority government hopes the third time is the charm for its controversial measure to increase sentences for marijuana cultivation and introduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. Now known as S-10, the measure will be taken up by the Senate when it returns from recess at end of next month.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa (math.nist.gov)
The bill is designed to "send a message" that "if you sell or produce drugs, you'll pay with jail time," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said when re-filing the bill in May.

Under the bill, anyone growing six or more plants for the purpose of drug trafficking could face a mandatory minimum six month jail sentence, with a one-year mandatory minimum for up to 200 plants and two years for up to 500 plants. Hash makers also face a one-year mandatory minimum.

The mandatory minimum sentences could be increased by half if any of a number of aggravating factors are claimed. These include whether a weapon was found on the premises, if minors were involved, if the location was unsafe, and whether pot production posed a danger to the public in a residential area.

The Conservatives' bill comes even as crime rates in Canada have fallen to a 30-year low and with majorities supporting marijuana legalization in recent polls.

"This is a terrible bill," said Jacob Hunter of Why Prohibition?, a web site set up by opponents of the bill to encourage online activism and social networking to defeat it. "I think the single worst provision is the 18-month mandatory minimum for making one pot brownie if the police can show you shared it with friends."

"The Conservatives have less than a third of the popular vote, and they think they have a mandate for these draconian measures," said Eugene Oscapella, an Ottawa law professor and head of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.

Last year's version of the bill, known as C-15, made it through the House of Commons with the support of the Liberals, but was softened slightly by Liberals in the Senate. But before the amended measure could pass, Prime Minister Harper ended the parliamentary session, killing the bill for the year.

In power since the 2006 elections, the Conservatives have been unable to win enough seats to form a majority government. Right now, the Conservatives hold 143 seats of the 307 in the House of Commons, with the Liberals holding 103, the Bloc Quebecois 51, and the New Democrats (NDP) 51.

That means the Conservatives are once again going to have to win over members of other parties to pass S-10. With the NDP and the Bloc both in solid opposition, the Conservatives will have to pick up support from the Liberals, but whether they will be able to do so remains to be seen. Last time, Liberal support got the bill over the top in the House, but this year, the Liberals are preparing for a possible called election in the fall or winter and may have had an infusion of spine-stiffener on the issue.

"The Liberals are running around like the cowardly lion," said Oscapella, who expressed dismay at their lack of principle. "There is no sign yet that they are doing anything other than kowtowing to the government on this issue."

"Last time the Liberals did support C-15 in the House, but modified and delayed it in the Senate," said Hunter, who was slightly more positive about the Liberals. "They were terrified of being soft on crime. This time, I'm hearing the Liberals won't be so easily cowed. They feel they can counter the soft on crime attack by attacking the Conservatives on cost. It will be a purely political decision for the Liberals."

Noting that the parliamentary budget office has set the price-tag of S-10 at $10 billion, Hunter said the high cost would be a wedge to use against the bill. "This has emboldened the opposition to attack the Conservative's law and order crime agenda as too costly," he said. "Plus, crime is a historic low, and these mandatory minimum policies have been tried in the US to poor effect."

In the Senate, Conservatives do have an outright majority of 54 of 105 Senate seats -- if the two Progressive Conservative senators are counted. The Liberals have 49 seats, and there are two independents. Conservative strength in the Senate may explain why the Harper government decided to place S-10 in the Senate instead of the House of Commons.

Opponents of S-10 are gathering their forces. They will have months or perhaps even a year to mobilize opposition as the bill moves through the parliamentary process.

"There is a lot of opposition to this bill in the media, which is coming out strongly against mandatory minimums and in favor of ending the war on drugs," noted Oscapella. "Yet the government wants to plow ahead. Faced with strong opposition, the more adamant they are that they will succeed," he said.

"This is all the more depressing because for years, the excuse was that the US would never let us do drug reform," the Ottawa attorney continued. "Now the rhetoric and the attitude in the US is changing, and this would be a time for us to move forward, but we're set to move backward. It's like George Bush came to Canada."

NDP MP Libby Davies, the party's drug policy critic, has been a stalwart in the fight against earlier incarnations of the bill and is likely to do so again. While, the East Vancouver MP was out of the office this week, Davies spoke out against the new bill back in May when it was introduced.

"I have been working at every turn to stop this failed, George Bush style war-on-drugs Bill that proposes mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes," Davies said. "My NDP colleagues and I voted a resounding no when this bill was introduced in the House as Bill C-15, but it was passed with the support of the Liberal Party. Now we have a second chance to stop this wrong-headed and costly legislation. The Conservatives’ iron fisted approach that criminalizes drug users is taking Canada in the wrong direction."

Why Prohibition? and other activist groups are preparing protests across Canada on October 2, as well as bombarding parliament and the government with messages opposing S-10. And that will be just the beginning of the campaign.

It looks like the Liberals hold the key to whether S-10 passes or fails. In the months ahead, expect the pressure on them to increase dramatically. And let's hope for the Conservatives that instead of third time is the charm, it's three strikes and you're out.

ottawa, ON
Canada

Massachusetts Approves Some Drug Sentencing Reforms

In action taken over the weekend in the final days of its legislative session, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that would shorten some sentences for drug offenders. The sentencing reform came within broader legislation, SB 2583, that will reduce the availability of criminal records in a bid to help former offenders find jobs.

Massachusetts State House
The bill, which was supported by Gov. Deval Patrick (D), would grant drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences in county Houses of Correction parole eligibility after serving half of their time -- like other county prisoners -- unless there are aggravating factors, such as the involvement of minors or the use of weapons or violence. People already serving time for such offenses would be eligible to seek parole.

But the bill could have been better: The final version dropped two sentencing reforms previously endorsed by the Senate. One would have allowed drug offenders doing mandatory minimums in state prisons the same access to parole as their county prison counterparts, and the other would have allowed drug offenders to be eligible for work release programs.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) Massachusetts project director Barbara Dougan applauded the vote but said legislators did not go far enough. "This law should provide a powerful incentive for county drug offenders to put their prison time to good use and prepare themselves for a successful return to their communities," she said. "While we wish the bill had contained additional reforms, especially for those state prisoners who are serving the harshest sentences, FAMM views the current legislation as an excellent first step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the legislature to expand these reforms in the coming years."

This makes Massachusetts at least the 16th state to reform mandatory minimum drug laws in recent years. But there is still more work to be done, in the Bay State and elsewhere.

Boston, MA
United States

Sentencing: South Carolina Governor Signs Reform Bill, Will End Mandatory Minimums for Some Drug Offenses

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) Wednesday signed into law a sentencing reform package that includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The bill, SB 1154 was based on the recommendations of the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission, empanelled by the governor in a bid to slow the growth of corrections spending in the state.

"A number of structural problems with our prison and parole system have prevented Corrections from making improvements that would both discourage recidivism and save taxpayer resources in the process," Sanford said in a signing statement. "This bill accomplishes many of those goals. It's designed not only to make our corrections process even more lean and effective and thereby save taxpayers millions -- but also to reduce overall crime and consequently improve the quality of life we enjoy as South Carolinians."

While South Carolina can brag about how cheaply it can imprison people -- it spends the second lowest amount per inmate in the country -- its prison budgets have soared along with its inmate population since the 1980s. In 1983, South Carolina spent $64 million to keep 9,200 people behind bars; this year, it will spend $394 million to imprison 25,000 people.

The bill attempts to change that trajectory through a number of measures. It ends mandatory minimum sentences for first-time drug possession offenders and allows the possibility of probation or parole for certain second and third offenders. It also removes the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine possession.

It also allows more prisoners to get into work release programs in the final three years of their sentences and mandates six months of reentry supervision for nonviolent offenders. The bill allows for home detention for third time driving-with-a-suspended-license offenders and for route-restricted drivers on first and second convictions.

It isn't all sweetness and light. The bill shifts the status of two dozen crimes, including sex offenses against children, from nonviolent to violent, meaning inmates convicted of those offenses will have to serve at least 85% of their time before being paroled. It also increases penalties for habitual driving-while-suspended offenders who kill or gravely injure someone.

Still, the bill should have a real impact on the system, especially given that drug offenders are the biggest category of offenders in prison in South Carolina, followed in order by burglars, bad check writers, and people driving on a suspended license. Officials estimate the measure will save the state $409 million over the next five years.

Sentencing: Penalties for Some Colorado Drug Possession Decrease Under New Law

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) Tuesday signed into law a package of criminal justice reform bills, including one that will reduce penalties for some drug possession offenses, one that will give judges increased discretion in sentencing, and one that will broaden parole eligibility. Of the 10 bills in the package, six were based on recommendations from the Colorado Commission on Criminal Justice, which Ritter formed in 2007 to try to get a grip on skyrocketing criminal justice and corrections costs.

"Our criminal justice system is tasked with one of the most important responsibilities in our society -- maintaining public safety and protecting communities," said Gov. Ritter, who served as Denver's district attorney for 12 years before becoming governor. "What we have created here in Colorado, particularly the past few years, is a system that is tough on crime and smart on crime. We can do both. We are doing both, because public safety is not a zero-sum game. Certainly, we can always do better. We can always make improvements. And that's what we are doing here today by signing this legislation into law."

HB 1352 reduces the penalty for the illegal use of drugs (excluding marijuana, which is already decriminalized) from a felony to a misdemeanor and removes the word "possess" from the statute regarding drug sales and manufacture. It also reduces the penalties for the simple possession of most drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But not all drugs. Possession of Rohypnol, ketamine, or methamphetamine would remain a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The misdemeanor possessors of other drugs, including heroin and cocaine, would face only 18 months.

But the bill also increases penalties for drug sales and manufacturing offenses to 12 years. Those convicted of importing drugs into the state or using guns face up to 48 years, and anyone convicted of supplying marijuana to someone younger than 15 faces a mandatory minimum four years.

Still, the bill commits $1.5 million in expected savings in prison costs to treatment and rehabilitation. Overall, the changes in sentencing, probation, and parole in the package are expected to save the state $3.6 million a year.

HB 1338, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman, allows judges to exercise more discretion in sentencing by allowing them to sentence some two-time felons to probation instead of prison. The provision does not apply to those whose prior felonies were specified violent crimes or offenses against children.

"HB 1338 restores judicial discretion in sentencing certain nonviolent offenders to probation rather than prison. This bill saves money and saves lives," Sen. Pat Steadman said.

HB 1360 allows community punishment instead of re-imprisonment for people on parole for low-level, nonviolent crimes who commit technical parole violations, such as a dirty drug test, missing an appointment, or moving without reporting the move.

"It saves the state millions of dollars by providing more intermediate sanctions for technical parole violators," said bill cosponsor Rep. Sal Pace. "These programs not only save the state money, but more importantly they are proven though research to reduce recidivism rates. That means fewer crimes, fewer victims and greater cost savings in the future."

Canada: Tories Reintroduce Mandatory Minimum Marijuana Bill

Canada's Conservative government this week reintroduced a controversial bill, now called S-10, that would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on people who grew as few as six marijuana plants or produced any amount of hashish. The bill is part of a broader Conservative "tough on crime" agenda being reintroduced after Prime Minister Stephen Harper suddenly ended the last session of Parliament last winter.

Last year, the bill, then known as C-15, passed the lower house, but had been amended by the Senate to raise the floor for mandatory minimum sentences to 201 plants and exempt aboriginal people from the mandatory minimums. That didn't set well with the Harper government, which has since appointed enough Conservatives to the Senate to give the party a majority as well as the House of Commons. It now plans to shove through its original, hard-line bill.

"All I'll say is I wasn't impressed by the amendments made in the Senate and again we will be introducing it into the Senate. The bill that we will introduce I'm confident will have a much better chance of passing," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told The Canadian Press in an interview Sunday. "They watered down some of the provisions with respect to the penalties. They wanted a separate aboriginal system. And again we want the bill to apply to everybody. And the penalties we were comfortable with."

The bill comes even as for the last two years, a majority of Canadians have voiced support for legalizing marijuana. In previous incarnations, the bill excited furious opposition, not only from pot aficionados, but also among researchers, drug policy groups, public health and harm reduction groups, and within Parliament itself.

"The bill is a disaster for Canada," said activist Jacob Hunter of Why Prohibition, which is organizing opposition. "S-10 will imprison thousands of Canadians for victimless crimes, send people to jail for growing 6 marijuana plants, making any hashish or baked goods, and a host of other offenses," he said.

"There is no evidence that S-10 will work," Hunter said. "Indeed, every scientific study says it will fail. We know that prohibition has never worked, and we know that mandatory minimum sentences only increase the violence in our society."

Canada: Poll Finds Majority Still Want to Legalize Marijuana, But Not Other Drugs

Marijuana legalization continues to garner majority support in Canada, with 53% of respondents to a new Angus-Reid poll saying they supported legalization. That figure is unchanged from the previous Angus-Reid poll on the issue two years ago.

Support for legalization was highest in pot-producing British Columbia (61%), neighboring Alberta (59%), and Canada's most populous province, Ontario (57%). Legalization had less than majority support only in the Atlantic provinces (47%) and the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (34%).

But while supporting marijuana legalization, Canadians also indicated they support many of the Conservative government's anti-drug proposals. Most non-controversially, 83% supported introducing a National Drug Control Strategy with media campaigns aimed at stopping young people from using drugs. Even the government's draconian mandatory minimum sentence proposal for marijuana growers and drug dealers won 70% support.

What Canadians do not support is scrapping the previous government's marijuana decriminalization proposal or eliminating harm reduction programs, such as needle exchanges and the Vancouver safe injection site. Only 36% of respondents agreed with those measures.

While support for freeing the weed remains strong in Canada, support for legalizing other drugs, which was never very high, is declining. Only 6% supported legalizing ecstasy, 5% supported legalizing crack, powder cocaine or heroin, and only 4% supported legalizing methamphetamine. All of those figures represent a drop of a least three percentage points from the previous Angus-Reid poll on the issue in May 2008.

Declining support for drug legalization and support for government anti-drug measures may be a consequence of Canadians' fears that the country has a drug problem. Some 42% of respondents think Canada "has a serious drug problem that affects the whole country," while 40% said the problem is limited to certain locales and populations, and only 11% said Canada did not have a serious drug problem.

Congress: Senate Passes Bill to Reduce, But Not Eliminate, Crack/Powder Sentencing Disparity

The US Senate approved on a voice vote Wednesday a bill that would reduce, but not eliminate, the disparity in sentences handed down to people convicted of crack versus powder cocaine charges. The bill championed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), S. 1789, would reduce the current, much maligned, 100:1 ratio to 18:1.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/capitolsenateside.jpg
Senate disappoints
Under current law, it takes only five grams of crack cocaine to earn a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, but 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. The law has been especially devastating in black communities, which make up about 30% of all crack consumers, but account for more than 80% of all federal crack prosecutions. Under the bill passes by the Senate, it would now take an ounce of crack for the mandatory minimums to kick in.

Durbin's bill originally called for completely eliminating the sentencing disparity, but was stalled until a Senate gym meeting between Durbin and opposition Judiciary Committee heavy-hitters Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). After that informal confab, the bill was amended to 18:1 and passed unanimously last week by the committee.

A bill in the House by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would completely eliminate the disparity by the simple act of eliminating all references to crack in the federal statute, HR 3245, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last July, but has not come to a floor vote. Now that the Senate has approved its bill, pressure will be on the House to just approve the Senate version.

Sen. Durbin told the Associated Press that while he had originally sought to completely eliminate the disparity, the final bill was a good compromise. "If this bill is enacted into law, it will immediately ensure that every year, thousands of people are treated more fairly in our criminal justice system," he said.

Durbin added that the harsher treatment of crack offenders combined with federal prosecutors' predilection for disproportionately going after black crack offenders had eroded respect for the law. "Law enforcement experts say that the crack-powder disparity undermines trust in the criminal justice system, especially in the African-American community."

But drug reformers and civil rights groups that had pushed for complete elimination of the sentencing disparity had a definitely mixed reaction to the Senate vote. It was progress, but not enough, they said.

"We strongly supported Sen. Durbin's bill, which would have completely eliminated the disparity," said Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights in a statement Wednesday. Adding that the group was "disappointed" that disparities remain, Henderson said that "this legislation represents progress, but not the end of the fight."

"Today is a bittersweet day," said Jasmine Tyler of the Drug Policy Alliance in a Wednesday statement. "On one hand, we've moved the issue of disparate sentencing for two forms of the same drug forward, restoring some integrity to our criminal justice system. But, on the other hand, the Senate, by reducing the 100:1 disparity to 18:1, instead of eliminating it, has proven how difficult it is to ensure racial justice, even in 2010."

Senate Passes Bill to Reduce, But Not Eliminate, Crack/Powder Sentencing Disparity

The US Senate approved on a voice vote Wednesday a bill that would reduce, but not eliminate, the disparity in sentences handed down to people convicted of crack versus powder cocaine charges. The bill championed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), SB 1789 would reduce the current, much maligned, 100:1 ratio to 18:1. Under current law, it takes only five grams of crack cocaine to earn a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, but 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. The law has been especially devastating in black communities, which make up about 30% of all crack consumers, but account for more than 80% of all federal crack prosecutions. Under the bill passes by the Senate, it would now take an ounce of crack for the mandatory minimums to kick in. Durbin's bill originally called for completely eliminating the sentencing disparity, but was stalled until a Senate gym meeting between Durbin and opposition Judiciary Committee heavy-hitters Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). After that informal confab, the bill was amended to 18:1 and passed unanimously last week by the committee. A bill in the House by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would completely eliminate the disparity by the simple act of eliminating all references to crack in the federal statute, HR 3245, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last July, but has not come to a floor vote. Now that the Senate has approved its bill, pressure will be on the House to just approve the Senate version. Sen. Durbin told the Associated Press that while he had originally sought to completely eliminate the disparity, the final bill was a good compromise. "If this bill is enacted into law, it will immediately ensure that every year, thousands of people are treated more fairly in our criminal justice system," he said. Durbin added that the harsher treatment of crack offenders combined with federal prosecutors' predilection for disproportionately going after black crack offenders had eroded respect for the law. "Law enforcement experts say that the crack-powder disparity undermines trust in the criminal justice system, especially in the African-American community." But drug reformers and civil rights groups that had pushed for complete elimination of the sentencing disparity had a definitely mixed reaction to the Senate vote. It was progress, but not enough, they said. "We strongly supported Sen. Durbin's bill, which would have completely eliminated the disparity," said Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights in a statement Wednesday. Adding that the group was "disappointed" that disparities remain, Henderson said that "this legislation represents progress, but not the end of the fight." "Today is a bittersweet day," said Jasmine Tyler of the Drug Policy Alliance in a Wednesday statement. "On one hand, we’ve moved the issue of disparate sentencing for two forms of the same drug forward, restoring some integrity to our criminal justice system. But, on the other hand, the Senate, by reducing the 100:1 disparity to 18:1, instead of eliminating it, has proven how difficult it is to ensure racial justice, even in 2010."
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Feature: Senate Judiciary Committee Unanimously Passes Bill to Reduce Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

The US Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would reduce -- but not eliminate -- the disparity in sentencing for federal crack and powder cocaine offenses. Under the bill introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), SB 1789, the disparity would have been completely eliminated, but the committee instead approved an amended version that reduces the ratio between crack and powder cocaine quantities from 100:1 to 20:1.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/capitolsenateside.jpg
US Capitol, Senate side
Under current federal law, it takes only five grams of crack to garner a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same prison time. Under the Senate bill, an ounce of crack will get you a five-year prison sentence while it would take more than a pound of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. But even retaining the 20:1 disparity, advocates estimate that some 3,100 cases would be affected each year, with sentences reduced by an average of 30 months.

The amended bill also eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for crack cocaine possession. But it also directs the US Sentencing Commission to increase sentences for aggravating factors such as violence or bribery of a police officer.

"This is an exciting vote, but also disappointing," said Julie Stewart, head of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "We hoped the committee would go further in making crack penalties the same as powder. There was no scientific basis for the 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine created 24 years ago, and there is no scientific basis for today’s vote of 20:1. However, if this imperfect bill becomes law, it will provide some long-overdue relief to thousands of defendants sentenced each year."

Stewart also noted with approval the elimination of the mandatory minimum sentence for simple crack possession. "If enacted, this legislation would repeal a mandatory minimum law for the first time since the Nixon administration," she said.

Stewart's sentiments were echoed by spokespersons for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which, like FAMM, has been lobbying on the Hill for years to undo the draconian and racially disparate impact of the federal crack laws. Although African-Americans make up only 30% of crack consumers, they account for 82% of all federal crack prosecution. Nearly two-thirds of all those convicted under the crack laws were low-level dealers or other minimally involved players.

"Today is a bittersweet day," said DPA's Jasmine Tyler. "On one hand, we've moved the issue of disparate sentencing for two forms of the same drug forward, restoring some integrity to our criminal justice system. But, on the other hand, the Senate Judiciary Committee, by reducing the 100:1 disparity to 20:1, instead of eliminating it, has proven how difficult it is to ensure racial justice, even in 2010."

"It's pretty amazing when you think about everything the Republicans and Democrats are fighting over -- health care, budgets, all that -- this is the one thing they can all come together on," said DPA national affairs director Bill Piper, noting the unanimous committee vote.

A similar bill passed the House Judiciary Committee during this same session of Congress last July. Introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), HR 3245 completely eliminates the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses by simply removing all references to crack cocaine from the federal statute.

Now it is up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to get the respective measures to a floor vote. Advocates are urging the White House to support the House bill.

"We're urging people to be very clear to the House, the Senate, and the president that the disparity should be completely eliminated and not just reduced," said DPA's Piper. "The House bill is the one that should ultimately be voted out of Congress. Our challenge is to get the full 1:1 bill approved, not the 20:1. That said, even 20:1 is a step in the right direction," he added, noting the glacial, multi-stage pace of Rockefeller drug law reform in New York state.

"While Democrats and Republicans bicker over healthcare, unemployment, education and other issues, it’s good to see that they unanimously agree that US drug laws are too harsh and need to be reformed," said DPA's Tyler. "While many will benefit from this change, more needs to be done. The disparity must be completely eliminated, and President Obama and Speaker Pelosi will have to stand up firmly on the issue to make that a reality."

Now it is a matter of political will in the White House and among the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, said Piper. "It is totally up to the House and Senate leadership to decide when and what they will take to the floor, but we have to do it this year, or everything dies, and we have to start over again next year."

The first significant rollback of a federal drug sentencing law in decades is drawing tantalizingly near after almost a quarter-century of hysteria-driven federal crack laws. Will the congressional Democrats have the gumption to push either the House bill or the Senate bill to a floor vote? Stay tuned.

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