Mandatory Minimums

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Why Mandatory Minimum Sentencing is Wrong and Bad

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/scales-small.jpg
scales of justice tilted to one side
Via Doug Berman and the Sentencing Law and Policy blog:

A report and editorial in the New York Times this week detail some of the unfortunate consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing, a policy in which judges are severely constrained in what sentences they are required to mete out to offenders. The editorial, titled "An Invitation to Overreach," discusses how mandatory minimums undermine the judicial process:

A Times report this week shows how prosecutors can often compel suspects to plead guilty rather than risk going to trial by threatening to bring more serious charges that carry long mandatory prison terms. In such cases, prosecutors essentially determine punishment in a concealed, unreviewable process -- doing what judges are supposed to do in open court, subject to review.
 

And mandatory minimums don't make sentences more even across different cases or for different types of people, an argument that is sometimes made. In fact they have made disparities worse, by transferring power from judges, who theoretically at least are neutral, to prosecutors, who effectively decide what the sentences will be because they determine what charges to bring:

These laws were conceived as a way to provide consistent, stern sentences for all offenders who commit the same crime. But they have made the problem much worse. They have shifted the justice system’s attention away from deciding guilt or innocence. In giving prosecutors more leverage, these laws often result in different sentences for different offenders who have committed similar crimes.
 

Other issues discussed by NYT including racial disparities in these laws' application, and their severe cost-ineffectiveness. Here's another reason to get rid of mandatory minimums: They are immoral and indecent.

Drug Policy Prospects on Capitol Hill This Year [FEATURE]

There are nearly two dozen pieces of drug policy-related legislation pending on Capitol Hill, but given a bitterly divided Congress intently focused on the economic crisis and bipartisan warfare in the run-up to the 2012 election, analysts and activists are glum about the prospects for passing reform bills and even gloomier about the prospects for blocking new prohibitionist bills.

uphill climb for reform this year
But while drug reform in the remainder of the 112th Congress may take on the aspect of slow-moving trench warfare, there is work to be done and progress to be made, advocates interviewed by Drug War Chronicle said. And intensely expressed congressional concern over federal budget deficits could provide opportunities to take aim at the federal drug war gravy train.

Bills to reform drug policy or of relevance to drug policy reform this session run the gamut from hemp legalization, medical marijuana reforms, and marijuana legalization to various sentencing reform and ex-offender re-entry measures, as well as a pair of bills aimed at protecting public housing residents from eviction because a family member commits a drug offense. Also worth mentioning is Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011, which, if it were to pass, would be a feather in the soon-to-be-retiring senator's cap.

On the other side of the issue, the most intense prohibitionist fervor this session is centered around banning new synthetic drugs, with five bills introduced so far to criminalize the possession and trade in either synthetic cannabinoids ("fake weed"), or synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"), or both. Other regressive bills would ban anyone with a drug arrest from owning a gun and require states to drug test welfare recipients. A hearing on welfare drug testing is reportedly coming soon. Conservative Republican-controlled House foreign affairs and national security committees could also see efforts to boost drug war spending in Mexico or other hard-line measures in the name of fighting the cartels.

[To see all the drug policy-related bills introduced so far in Congress, as well as legislation introduced in the states, visit our new Legislative Center.]

While advocates are ready to do battle, the political reality of a deeply divided Congress in the run-up to a presidential election in the midst of deep economic problems means drug policy is not only low on the agenda, but also faces the same Republican House/Democratic Senate gridlock as any other legislation.

"The inertia is not exclusive to sentencing or drug policy reform," said Kara Gotsch of the Sentencing Project. "Nothing is moving. There is such a deadlock between the House and the Senate and the Republicans and the Democrats in both chambers. I don't think failure to move in this Congress is necessarily a sign of limited interest in reform, but the political fighting means nothing moves."

"The House is passing stuff with no expectation it will pass the Senate," said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "The whole Congress right now is in a state of suspended animation, waiting to see whether Obama is reelected or not and whether the Senate goes Republican or not. The gridlock we all see in the headlines around big issues such as taxes and spending filters down to almost every committee and every issue."

And with Republicans in control of the House, the prospects for marijuana law reform in particular are grim in the short term, the former House Judiciary Committee counsel said. "I don't think there is going to be any positive legislative action," Sterling predicted. "The House is not going to take up the medical marijuana bills and it's not going to take up the Frank-Paul legalization bill. They won't even get hearings."

"I don't think any of these marijuana bills will pass with this Congress, but they're very important as placeholders," agreed Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "As long as those bills are out there, we can keep bringing the issue in front of lawmakers and continue to educate them about this."

Even stalled bills provide opportunities for advancement, Sterling concurred. "That's not to say there isn't important education that can be done, and organizing and encouraging members to cosponsor good legislation. They need to be educated. The test of whether the effort is worthwhile or not is whether it can be passed this session," he offered. "The political stars are not lined up.

Jim Webb at 2007 hearing on incarceration (photo from sentencingproject.org)
Medical marijuana legislation in Congress includes a pair of bills aimed at making the financial system friendlier to dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related businesses, as well as a bill that would reschedule marijuana for prescription use:

  • Introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), H.R. 1984, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, would protect financial institutions that accept medical marijuana deposits from federal fines or seizures and having to file "suspicious activity" reports. Such threats have prompted major banks to stop doing business with dispensaries.
  • Introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), H.R. 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011, would allow dispensaries to deduct expenses like any other business and is designed to avoid unnecessary IRS audits of dispensaries and put an end to a wave of audits already underway.
  • The marijuana rescheduling bill, H.R. 1983, the States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, would also specifically exempt from federal prosecution people in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. It was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).

"We're having our grassroots support all three pieces of legislation, but our primary thrust is H.R. 1983," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. "It's tough to get people engaged at the federal level, but we've mounted a social media campaign and want to promote the bill through Facebook and other methods, getting some viral participation in something that should be important for most patients around the country."

Part of the group's difficulty in getting members to focus on Congress is because they are busy fending off assaults at the state and local level, said Hermes. "We've had many instances of state officials doing an about-face on implementation of state laws or further restricting them, so the battleground has become very focused and localized," he noted.

"That takes energy away from what's going on at the federal level, and that's the real tragedy because it's the federal government that's at the root of all the opposition and tension taking place at the local level," Hermes said, pointing to this year's spate of threatening letter from US Attorneys to elected officials. "Having to fight this locally takes energy away from what's going on at the federal level."

Aaron Smith of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the recently formed trade association for marijuana businesses, said his group was focused on the financial bills. "I'm not holding my breath on the Republicans in the House, but the very introduction of these bills is progress," he said. "For the first time, we're actually seeing some of the industry's issues addressed. We think we'll see more traction for these bills than the broader legalization issue. There's already an industry clamoring for regulation, and federal laws are getting in between states and businesses in those states. We will be seeing state officials supporting these reforms. It's hard to write a check to the IRS or state treasuries when you can't have a banking account."

While the association is not predicting passage of the bills this session, it will be working toward that goal, Smith said. "We can get more cosponsors and we will be working to raise awareness of the issue," he said. "Just a year ago, no one even knew about these problems, now they are being addressed, and that's progress in itself."

But Congress is not the only potential source of relief for the industry, Smith said. "It would be helpful if we could get a memo from the Department of the Treasury clarifying that businesses licensed under their respective state laws are not a banking risk," he continued, suggesting that the existence of the bills could help prod Treasury.

While acknowledging the obstacles to reform in the current Congress, Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, was more upbeat about the state of affairs on Capitol Hill. "I'm super-excited about the level of support for the Frank-Paul marijuana legalization bill," he said. "It has 15 cosponsors now, and when you consider that it is completely undoing federal marijuana prohibition, that's pretty remarkable. Three or four years ago, we couldn't even get anybody to introduce it. And I'm also pleasantly surprised by not only the number of cosponsors, but who they are. They include Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), three important members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and most recently, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), a member of the Hispanic caucus."

In the event that the Democrats retake the House in 2013, Conyers would become chair of the House Judiciary Committee again, Piper noted. "We would have a cosponsor of a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition chairing that key committee," he said. Until then, Piper continued, "while the bill is gaining steam, it is unlikely to get a hearing in this Congress."

If the prospects are tough for marijuana reform in the current Congress, they aren't looking much better for sentencing reform, although the budget crisis could provide an opening, Piper said. "I'm not optimistic about sentencing reform, but DPA is advocating that it be added to the package of spending cuts and bills designed to reduce the deficit over the long term. If they're talking about reforming entitlements and the tax code, they should be talking about reducing unsustainable drug war spending," he argued.

The Sentencing Project's Gotsch said that while the Hill would be difficult terrain for the rest of the session, there is progress being made on the sentencing front. "The Sentencing Commission has been very good, and the Department of Justice has responded favorably to Fair Sentencing Act implementation. Justice supported retroactivity on crack, and it has also reversed course on prosecuting crack cases prior to August 2010," she said.

Even in the Congress, there are small signs of progress, she noted. "I am encouraged by things like federal good time expansion included in the Second Chance Act reauthorization. That has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it even picked up one Republican vote. That's good, and that's a discussion we hadn't had before."

What Gotsch is not getting enough of is hearings, she said. "It's disappointing that there hasn't been more activity regarding hearings, but next month, the Sentencing Commission will hopefully release its mandatory minimum sentencing report, and I know the advocacy community will be pushing the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on that."

For Sterling, it is money that is going to move things in the current Congress. "According to the latest Sentencing Commission on federal drug cases, 26% of federal drug cases were marijuana cases," he noted. "With a federal drug supply reduction budget of $15.4 billion, you can argue to the Congress that if you were to pass the Frank-Paul legalization bill, you could save about $4 billion a year."

Sterling is making a similar argument to the deficit-tackling congressional Supercommittee about federal crack cocaine prosecutions. "I argue to them that if they eliminated federal crack cocaine prosecutions, which account for about 20% of federal drug cases, they could save $3.5 billion a year," he said. "Crack is made and sold locally; it shouldn't be a federal case. That should be reserved for people like Mexican cartel leaders."

But while Sterling's argument is logical, he is not sanguine about the prospects. "We could save billions of dollars a year, but I don't think something that gets translated as letting dope dealers out of prison is going to get very far. Still, it's a contemporary argument, and the money is real money. What is clear is that these expenditures are a waste; they're not keeping drugs out of the hands of the community or reducing the crime in the community, and the money could be better spent on something else."

Budget battles offer potential openings to drug reform foes as well. House Republicans are using budget bills to attempt to kill reforms they didn't like, such as opening up federal AIDS funding streams to needle exchange programs, said Hilary McQuie of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

"We have to fight this constantly in the House now," she said. "They're reinserting all these bans; they even put a syringe exchange ban rider in the foreign operations budget bill, so that's a new front, and we can't even fight it in the House. That means we have to make sure the Senate is lined up so these things can be fixed in conference committee. It feels to me like we can't make any progress in Congress right now."

McQuie said, though, that Congress isn't the only game in town. "We're looking less to Congress and more to the regulatory bodies," she said. "Obama's appointments have been pretty good, and just last week we had SAMHSA coming out with guidance to the state about applying for substance abuse block grants. This is the first big piece of money going out with explicit instructions for funding syringe exchange services. Even in this political atmosphere, there are places to fight the fight."

Where the Congress is likely to be proactive on drug policy, it's likely to be moving in the wrong direction. The ongoing panic over new synthetic drugs provides a fine opportunity for politicians to burnish their drug warrior credentials, and legislation to ban them is moving.

"I'm pessimistic about those stupid bills to outlaw Spice and bath salts," said Piper. "One bill to do that just sailed through the House Commerce Committee, and we're hoping it at least goes through Judiciary. The Republicans definitely want to move it, it went through Commerce without a hearing, and no one opposed it," he explained. "But we're working on it. Given that this is the 40th anniversary of the failed war on drugs, why add another drug to the prohibitionist model?"

"Those bills are going to pass," Sterling bluntly predicted. "There may be some quibbling over sentencing, but there's simply no organized constituency to fight it. DPA and the ACLU are concerned about civil liberties, but I don't think that's going to have much of an impact. I'd be very surprised if more than a handful of liberals vote against this."

That may not be such a bad thing, he suggested. "I'm quite willing to say that people who use these things should not be punished, but I'm not sure I want to defend the rights of people to sell unknown chemicals and call them whatever they want," he said.

Even though the evidence of harm from the new synthetics may be thin, it remains compelling, Sterling said, and few legislators are going to stand up in the face of the "urgent" problem. "Even if you argued that these drugs needed to be studied, the rejoinder is that we are facing a crisis. To challenge these bills is asking more courage of our legislators than our system tolerates."

The remainder of the current Congress is unlikely to see significant drug reform, in large part for reasons that have more to do with congressional and presidential politics than with drug policy. But that doesn't mean activists are going to roll over and play dead until 2013.

"People should continue to pressure members of Congress to get on the Frank-Paul legalization bill," urged Piper. "The more cosponsors we get, the more it helps with passing legislation at the state level, and it also helps with getting media on the issue and making it more likely that the bill will get a hearing. That's a top priority for us."

The budget issue also needs to stay highlighted, Piper said. "Whether it's Democrats or Republicans in charge, Congress is going to make cuts, and they should definitely be pressured to cut the drug war. We want the drug war on the chopping block. This is a unique historical opportunity with the recession and the focus on the budget cuts. We have to re-frame the drug war as not only failed, but too expensive to continue."

Washington, DC
United States

ALERT: Congress Must Pass Sentencing Reform

Twenty-five years ago Congress enacted severe mandatory minimum sentences, condemning thousands of mostly low-level, mostly nonviolent drug offenders to years, sometimes decades in prison. In part because of these and similar "sentencing guideline" penalties, the United States now suffers from an incarceration rate unprecedented in the history of our own country or any other.

Last year Congress took a modest step in the right direction, unanimously passing the Fair Sentencing Act -- raising the quantities of crack cocaine needed to trigger certain infamous five- and ten-year sentences, and eliminating mandatory minimums for crack possession. But much, much more is needed to address these unjust and exorbitantly expensive sentencing laws.

Please write Congress today to call for passage of the following important bills:

  • H.R. 2303, the "Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act," sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- eliminates mandatory minimums to reduce the incentive prosecutors have to go after large numbers of low-level offenders.
  • H.R. 2316 and H.R. 2242, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), bills to make last year's crack sentencing reforms retroactive; and to continue the reform by eliminating "cocaine base" from the federal code entirely, thereby reducing penalties further to reach the same level as powder cocaine offenses.

When you are done, please make a call, send a letter or pay a visit to your US Representative and your two US Senators to urge them to pass sentencing reform -- you can reach them via the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or look them up on our web site. Please use our tell-a-friend form to spread the word about this important legislation too.

Every day that passes without sentencing reform is a day that thousands of people who don't need to be in prison, who may have never deserved to go there, continue to languish needlessly behind bars, separated from their friends and families who want them back. Thank you for taking action.


Ongoing reporting on drug sentencing is available on our web site
here, or by RSS feed here.

Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary Hearing

Visit http://www.malegislature.gov/Events/EventDetail?eventId=228&eventDataSource=Hearings or http://famm.org/StateSentencing/Massachusetts/MassachusettsUpdates/September20JudiciaryCommitteeHearing.aspx for further information on this hearing.

Visit http://www.capwiz.com/drcnet/issues/bills/?type=ST#Current_Sessions:_Sentencing_&_Incarceration for information on some of the sentencing bills being considered in Massachusetts and other states.

Date: 
Tue, 09/20/2011 - 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: 
24 Beacon St., Room B-2
Boston, MA 02108
United States

Federal Crack Prisoners Will Get Sentence Cuts [FEATURE]

Thousands of inmates imprisoned on federal crack cocaine charges will be able to seek sentence reductions and early release after the US Sentencing Commission vote unanimously June 30 to make changes in federal sentencing guidelines for crack offenders it had approved earlier this year retroactive. About 85% of those crack prisoners are black.

Federal Correctional Institution Milan, Milan, Michigan. Soon there will be room at the inn. (Image: Wikimedia.org)
The changes in the sentencing guidelines came after Congress last year passed the Fair Sentencing Act reducing the notorious disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Under drug laws passed amidst the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while people caught with powder cocaine had to be carrying 100 times as much of the drug to garner the same sentence.

The law passed last year reduced the sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, but did not eliminate it. After passage of the law, the Sentencing Commission proposed a permanent amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines to implement the new law, which would result in sentence reductions for newly convicted crack offenders. But that amendment provided no relief for those already serving harsh crack sentences -- until now.

With the Sentencing Commission's vote Thursday, retroactivity for current crack prisoners will go into effect the same date as the proposed amendment, November 1, unless Congress acts to undo it. But despite the grumblings of a few Republicans, that appears unlikely.

"In passing the Fair Sentencing Act, Congress recognized the fundamental unfairness of federal cocaine sentencing policy and ameliorated it through bipartisan legislation," noted Commission chair, Judge Patti Saris. "Today's action by the Commission ensures that the longstanding injustice recognized by Congress is remedied, and that federal crack cocaine offenders who meet certain criteria established by the Commission and considered by the courts may have their sentences reduced to a level consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010."

While not every crack offender in the federal prison system will be eligible to seek a lower sentence, more than 12,000 will, and they will see an average sentence reduction of slightly more than three years. That should result in a cost savings of more than $200 million over the next five years, the Commission said.

But with an average crack sentence of about 13 ½ years, current crack prisoners will still serve a harsh average of about 10 ½ years. [Editor's Note: The original version of this article inadvertently understated those numbers.] And many future crack offenders will still be handed down mandatory minimum five- or 10-year sentences based on the amount of crack involved in their offenses.

While advocates lauded the commission's move, they noted that there was still more work to be done. Still, for many, some of whom have been working to redress the injustice for years, Thursday was a day of joy and relief.

"I am thrilled for our members and their families who suffered under a sentencing scheme that Congress admitted was fundamentally flawed, said Julie Stewart founder and director of Families against Mandatory Minimums. "I am also grateful to the members of the Sentencing Commission who responded to facts, not fear. The Commission once again has played its rightful role as the agency responsible for developing sound, evidence-based sentencing recommendations. In fact, if Congress had listened to the Commission fifteen long years ago when it first called for crack sentencing reform, today’s vote might not have been necessary," said Ms. Stewart.

But noting that Thursday's vote only applied retroactivity to relaxed sentencing guidelines and not to pre-Fair Sentencing Act mandatory minimums, Stewart called on Congress to make the act retroactive as well, bringing relief to those serving mandatory minimum sentences.

"The ball is now in Congress's court," Stewart said. "To finish the job, Congress must now make the mandatory minimum sentence for crack cocaine retroactive."

While calling the commission's action "the right thing," ACLU Washington Legislative Office director Laura Murphy also said further reform was needed. "Making these new guidelines retroactive will offer relief to thousands of people s who received unfair sentences under the old crack cocaine law. However, despite today's victory, sizeable racial and sentencing disparities still exist, and it is time for our country to seriously rethink mandatory minimums and a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing. Based on little more than politics and urban myth, the sentencing gap between powder and crack cocaine has been devastating to our African-American communities."

The change has been a long time coming, said the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Since 1995, the US Sentencing Commission has, in four reports to Congress, requested that Congress raise the threshold quantities of crack that trigger mandatory minimums in order to ease the unconscionable racial disparities in sentencing," said Jasmine L. Tyler, DPA deputy director of national affairs. "This vote to provide retroactive relief to the thousands of defendants whose sentences the Commission has consistently condemned for the past seventeen years."

"The difference between crack and powder cocaine is cultural, not chemical," said Jim Lavine, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The Commission's own research indicates that over 80 percent of the nonviolent offenders who will benefit from the new guideline are African-American or Hispanic. We can't give back all the time that offenders served under the previous guidelines, but reducing prison time for those persons still incarcerated is a significant recognition of the unfairness of the old law," he said. "A civilized society doesn’t mete out punishment based on a defendant's culture or skin color."

Some Republican lawmakers had opposed retroactivity, arguing that early releases would pose a threat to the public safety, but the Sentencing Commission reported that prisoners released early had no higher rate of recidivism than those who served more time. It also sought to reassure nervous conservatives that each case would be carefully reviewed.

"The Commission is aware of concern that today’s actions may negatively impact public safety," said Judge Saris. "However, every potential offender must have his or her case considered by a federal district court judge in accordance with the Commission’s policy statement, and with careful thought given to the offender's potential risk to public safety. The average sentence for a federal crack cocaine offender will remain significant at about 127 months," she explained.

The Sentencing Commission's vote is a significant victory against prejudice and injustice and marks another milestone in the retreat from the "lock 'em up" mania that has dominated the officials response to illicit drug use and sales for decades. But the fact that the federal courts are still going to be sending people to prison for a decade for slinging some rocks, or even, in some cases, merely possessing them, shows how far we still have to go.

Washington, DC
United States

Good Drug Policy Bills to Be Introduced in Congress This Week

Last April we reported that US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) was planning to introduce a bill to fully legalize marijuana. That is happening this week -- tomorrow, according to Mike Riggs at Reason -- though Barney Frank (D-MA) is taking the lead, with Polis as a cosponsor. Ron Paul (R-TX) is the sole Republican cosponsor.

Possibly this week, and soon in any case, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is reintroducing the "Major Drug Traffickers Prosecution Act." From her remarks at DPA's press conference last week:

This bill is similar to previous legislation that I have introduced since 1999, and it would begin to implement one of the suggested criminal justice reforms recommended by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.  The Major Drug Traffickers Prosecution Act of 2011 will: curb federal prosecutions of low-level and non-violent drug offenders; re-focus scarce federal resources to prosecute major drug kingpins, and give courts and judges greater discretion to place drug users on probation or suspend the sentence entirely.  Under this bill, judges will be able to make individualized determinations and take into account a defendant’s individual and unique circumstances rather than being held to a stringent sentencing requirement prescribed by Congress.

Check back for updates and action alerts supporting these two important bills.

RI Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Growers Can Have Guns

In a case decided earlier this month, a Rhode Island superior court judge has dismissed marijuana cultivation and distribution and weapons possession charges against a registered medical marijuana patient. The state had argued that even if someone is a legal medical marijuana patient, he cannot possess a firearm. It is now deciding whether it will appeal the judge's ruling.

Medical marijuana patients don't forfeit their 2nd Amendment rights, at least in Rhode Island. (Image via Wikimedia.org
Dean Derobbio, the patient registered with the state, and his roommate and registered caregiver, Joseph Joubert, were arrested in January 2010 on charges of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell it. Derobbio, who legally owned a 9mm hand gun found in his nightstand, was also charged with carrying a dangerous weapon while committing a crime of violence. The "crime of violence" was growing marijuana, according to prosecutors and police. That charge carries a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.

Under Rhode Island's 2006 medical marijuana law, a patient can grow or possess specified amounts of marijuana. The law does not mention guns, nor does it impose a limit on how many caregivers a patient can designate. Derobbio had two, Joubert and Joubert's mother.

Superior Court Judge Robert Krause noted those omissions when he threw out the charges earlier this month. "In my opinion," Krause said, "this is a poorly drafted statute, and I don't think... a defendant ought to be criminally liable for inartful draftsmanship."

He also rejected the state's contention that Derobbio could still be pursed on gun charges even if the court found he legally possessed both the pot and the pistol. The following exchange between Krause and Special Assistant Attorney General Michael McCarthy reported by the Providence Journal is illustrative:

"If I were to find that there was nothing unlawful about what these defendants had done by way of the medical-marijuana statute, and that they were within the framework of the statute, and did not exceed the amount of plants that are authorized, would you still pursue the prosecution [of the gun charge]?" Krause asked.

"With all due respect, your honor, I would," McCarthy said. He explained that he would prosecute it under a law that says you cannot legally grow marijuana while being in possession of a firearm. "And, your honor, if you are cultivating marijuana, and if you are in possession of a firearm, even though the law has stated you can grow marijuana, it is silent as to whether or not you can possess a firearm," McCarthy said.

"If you meet the requirements, if you have possession of plants that are within the legal limit under this marijuana act, and if you have a firearm at home, and you're not a convicted felon, both of these are legal, yes?" Krause asked.

"Yes," McCarthy said.

"But, nonetheless, you claim it's criminal conduct." Krause said.

"As is being intoxicated in possession of a firearm," McCarthy said.

Judge Kraus wasn't buying that argument. Nor did he agree with the state's contention that the 33 plants grown by Joubert and his mother were outside the limits of the law. The Rhode Island law limits caregivers to 24 plants, but does not limit the number of caregivers a patient may have.

"The statute doesn't make it unlawful for two caregivers to have the same patient, does it?" Krause said, adding, "What a wonderfully drafted statute we have. I don't know who drafted this thing."

It appears the state will appeal at least that portion of the decision. "Nobody can have collectively, or otherwise, more than 24 plants," said Stacey Veroni, criminal division chief in the attorney general's office. "This collective grow issue is an issue."

"It appears that the state is trying to circumvent the legislation's intent," said Derobbio's attorney Michael Campopiano. "Judge Krause is absolutely interpreting it right," he said.

Chalk one up for Rhode Island medical marijuana patients.

Providence, RI
United States

Delaware Senate to Vote on Comprehensive Revision of State's Criminal Drug Laws

Location: 
DE
United States
The state Senate is poised to vote on a sweeping revision of Delaware's criminal drug laws. The bill is supported by police, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The House passed it earlier this month with one dissenting vote.
Publication/Source: 
Daily Reporter (IN)
URL: 
http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/view/story/fb4f2032b24c42b3923ca301cbb91f2d/DE-XGR--Drug-Laws/

Florida's New Corrections Head Pushing for Drug Rehab, Flexibility in Sentencing

Location: 
FL
United States
More drug treatment, juvenile intervention and giving judges more flexibility in sentencing are the ways to improve Florida's correctional system, the state's newest prisons chief said.
Publication/Source: 
The Florida Courier (FL)
URL: 
http://www.flcourier.com/flflorida/4459-floridas-new-corrections-head-pushing-for-drug-rehab-job-training

Liberals Block Canada Mandatory Minimum Bill

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been thwarted once again in its effort to pass a bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The opposition Liberals announced February 10 that they will not support the legislation.

Tough luck, Mr. Harper
Because Harper's Conservative government is a minority government, it needs the support of opposition parties in the House of Commons to pass the crime bill, S-10. But the other opposition parties, the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois, have been staunch opponents of the measure. With the Liberals announcing they will vote against S-10, Harper's government doesn't have the votes to pass it.

The bill would have enacted mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six pot plants. The Liberals took their stand against it after Conservatives refused to say how much it would cost.

"This bill isn't tough on crime, it's dumb on crime," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. "We're all in favor of cracking down on serious criminals, but this bill doesn't distinguish between massive grow-ops and a first-time offender with a small amount. What's more, the Conservatives won't tell us what the fiscal implications of this bill are. How many billions will it cost? How many mega-prisons will have to be built? For these reasons, we just can't support it," he said.

The bill had already passed the Senate, where the Conservatives hold a majority, but opposition had been growing as it headed for the House of Commons. Earlier this week, more than 550 health professionals signed an open letter opposing the bill.

"The scientific evidence shows that mandatory minimum sentences will not cut violent crime, reduce drug use or improve public safety," said Dr. Thomas Kerr, co‐director of the Urban Health Research Initiative, one of the groups behind the letter. "To turn the tide on organized crime and drug use in Canada we need illicit drug policies based on the best available scientific evidence. Unfortunately, Bill S‐10 turns its back on evidence‐based research in favor of misguided political appeal."

Canadian anti-prohibitionists welcomed the move by the Liberals. "We are extremely pleased that the Liberal Party has made its decision on the basis of evidence," said Kirk Tousaw, executive director of the Vancouver-based Beyond Prohibition Foundation. "This punishment plan would not have reduced crime, nor would it have made Canadian safer from the influence of gangs. In fact, the foundation has long argued that the evidence is clear that ramping up a war on drugs has the perverse effect of making drugs more available, cheaper and more potent while simultaneously increasing the profitability and violent tendencies of organized criminals. Today the Liberal Party of Canada decided to be smart on crime."

This year's effort to pass the crime bill was the third by the Harper government. Perhaps now the Tories will give it a rest.

Ottawa, ON
Canada

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School