The "650 Lifer" law in Michigan is the toughest drug law in the country.  It requires a mandatory sentence of life without parole for individuals convicted of delivery of 650 gram or more of cocaine or heroin.  A bi-partisan effort in the state legislature has passed two important reforms to this law.  "650 lifers" will now be eligible for parole at 15, 17 1/2, or 20 years, depending on if the individual is a repeat offender and whether the individual cooperated with law enforcement.  Judges will also gain some discretion in the sentencing of persons convicted of "650" offenses. The law will now hold a penalty of "life or any term of years, but not less than 20 years."  Governor Engler is expect to sign the bill into law this August.

Representative Barbara Dobb spearheaded the reform effort.  "I would hope this acts as a catalyst for legislators to take a hard look at the harsh mandatory minimum penalties," Rep. Dobb told The Week Online.  "Instead of targeting drug kingpins, it has mainly incarcerated low-level addicts and couriers for life, at a tremendous cost to the taxpayers.  It's long past time to be smart on crime and make sure that those most involved in the drug trade serve the longest sentences," she also stated.  Representative Ted Wallace, Representative Mike Nye and Senator William Van Regenmorter were all instrumental in pulling together this risky election year legislation.

"Make no mistake, the '650 lifer' law remains one of the harshest drug laws in the U.S.," said Laura Sager, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums' Michigan Project.  "There is nothing 'soft' about a penalty that is still more severe than that of second degree murder.  In addition, it is very difficult for individuals sentenced to life to meet the stringent parole requirements for those with life sentences -- fewer than one percent of individuals serving parolable life sentences for other crimes have been released in the last decade."

Many members of the community have worked to get these reforms in place. Activists include family members, judges, attorneys, clergy and other individuals whose lives have been touched by this law.  This is a "tremendous achievement for grassroots activism," Laura Sager commented to The Week Online.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a national, non-profit sentencing reform organization with 33,000 members nationally and 3,100 in Michigan.  Visit them on the web at http://www.famm.org.

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Issue #49, 7/10/98 Government Kicks Off Billion Dollar Anti-Drug Ad Campaign | Feds File Motion Allowing Marshals to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Dispensaries | Oakland City Council Adopts Liberal Medical Marijuana Guidelines | Reports: Correlation Between Alcohol and Crime Much Stronger than Correlation Between Illicit Drugs and Crime | Federal Study Suggests Marijuana May Prevent Brain Damage in Stroke Victims | Anti-Needle Exchange H.R. 3717 Moves to Senate | Michigan Legislature Reforms "650 Lifer" Law | Heicklen Arrested at Start of 30 Hour Protest at Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts | Special Report: Drug Policy Down Under | Editorial: Running Ads vs. Protecting Kids
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