Sentencing: Vermont Bill Lowering Thresholds for Trafficking Charges Advances

A bill that would decrease the amount of drugs like cocaine or heroin necessary for people to be charged as presumptive drug traffickers was unanimously approved by the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday. The vote came two weeks after the same committee voted to lower the criminal penalties for people possessing small amounts of marijuana.

The bill, S-250, would reduce the amount of cocaine necessary to support a trafficking charge from 300 grams to 150 grams and the amount of heroin from seven grams to 3.5 grams. The amounts of the drugs needed to support conspiracy charges would also be halved, from 800 to 400 grams of cocaine and from 20 to 10 grams of heroin. People charged as traffickers would face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), the chairman of the committee, said the bill is aimed at stopping the inflow of hard drugs into Vermont from larger, out-of-state cities in Massachusetts, New York and Canada. He cited violence around the drug trade and reports of drug dealers hooking young women on drugs and forcing them into prostitution.

"The violence we've seen, from the problems in Rutland to the recent slashing in Bennington, reinforces the need for the justice system to have more tools," Sears said. "We are sending a message that we won't have this happening in our communities," Said Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), the bill's sponsor. Anyone possessing the quantities of drugs listed in the bill is probably a dope dealer, he said. "With the amounts that are outlined here, we are still talking about a big business," he explained.

The bill has the strong support of Vermont's drug abuse bureaucracy and law enforcement, and will probably pass. No word yet on what the long-term costs of imprisoning violators for decades will be.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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