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Marijuana: Massachusetts Gubernatorial Candidate Favors Legalization, Just Not During His Term

Democratic Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick has, according to recent polling, a huge lead on his opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Kealey. It isn't because of the clarity of his position on marijuana policy.

At the fourth and final gubernatorial debate October 26, both major party candidates and two minor party candidates were asked the following question by the debate moderator: "Since the 1970s at least a dozen states have decriminalized the possession by adults of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Massachusetts is not one of them. In a 2003 Boston University study estimated that the thousands of arrests for pot possession each year cost more than $24 million in law enforcement resources. There's a bill before the legislature that would reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce to a $100 civil fine. Would you sign it if it reached your desk?"

After saying that he hoped the bill never reached his desk because that was not his priority, Patrick added that law enforcement should emphasize large drug traffickers and that the same person who provided marijuana to his drug addict uncle also provided him with heroin. He concluded his initial response by saying, "I'm very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana. I just don't think it ought to be our priority."

The moderator was reduced to asking Patrick directly if he would veto the bill. "I would veto that," he responded.

Republican candidate Healey didn't dance around in her response. "I would veto that proposal," she said, citing the cost of drug addiction and the "tragedy" of kids in the social service system because of drug-addicted parents. "Anything that leads to drug addiction should be absolutely off the table and I would never legalize drugs."

Independent gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos joined the consensus, saying that he supported medical marijuana, but would veto a decrim bill. Only Green-Rainbow candidate Grace Ross gave any positive indication about the decrim bill, but that was vague too. "I'm not big for throwing people in prison for small amounts of marijuana but what the real issue is -- drug addiction, and every other industrialized nation doesn't have as many people in prison and there's a reason because when someone's addicted to something they can get treatment on demand, they can get treatment immediately because universal health care means when you know you need treatment you go in and you get it. So I think if we're going to talk about drugs lets catch the big folks who have the big amounts of money who bring them into communities, not the small fish."

Still, Ross refused to say whether she would sign or veto a decrim bill, saying she would want to see the context of other "much more important" policy changes. She did, however, obliquely attack Healey's comments about drug-addicted parents. "I think we have got to be real here because it's not about what's legal and what's not legal completely because a lot of those kids in DSS their parents are addicted to alcohol, not to illegal substances and I think that the one piece about this kind of question that's legitimate is that addiction is not connected with which substances are legal or not. And so we need to be honest here. I think the question of where marijuana sits in comparison to alcohol is a legitimate question and we need to deal with addiction as addiction and not about criminalizing people who are addicted. We need to deal with it as addiction."

In local ballot questions in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 general elections, more than 410,000 Massachusetts residents have voted for marijuana law reform.

Punishment: The U.S. Record

Punishment: The U.S. Record

A Social Research Conference at The New School on Thursday, November 30 and Friday, December 1, 2006


Join us as we examine the foundations of our ideas of punishment, explore the social effects of current practices and search for viable alternatives to our carceral state.

AGENDA SPEAKERS ABSTRACTS OVERVIEW
REGISTER LINKS HOTELS CONTACT

SPECIAL EVENT: RICHARD GERE and Others Reading Prison Writings
SPECIAL EVENT: The Metropolitian Museum of Art Tour of Artistic Representations of Punishment
Date: 
Thu, 11/30/2006 - 10:30am - Fri, 12/01/2006 - 7:00pm
Location: 
United States

Senate Staff Briefing - Friday, October 27, 2006 - The 20-Year Legacy of Crack & Powder Cocaine Sentencing

Senate Staff Briefing - Friday, October 27, 2006 - The 20-Year Legacy of Crack & Powder Cocaine Sentencing Sponsored by the Justice Roundtable Friday, October 27, 2006 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. 226 Dirksen (Bring your brown bag lunch) On October 27, 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The law's mandatory penalties for crack cocaine offenses are the toughest ever adopted for low-level drug offenses. A defendant convicted with five grams of crack cocaine (the weight of less than two sugar packets) is subject to a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. The same five-year penalty is triggered for powder cocaine only when the offense involves 500 grams, 100 times the minimum quantity for crack. Twenty years later it is time to re- evaluate the implications of this law and determine whether the law's application reflects Congress's intent in 1986 when the legislation was enacted. Panelists will discuss the effects of the legislation on drug abuse and public safety, as well as a range of proposals for reform. Join panelists, including FAMM board member Eric Sterling, for a frank discussion of this issue. Full participants include: Lisa Rich, U.S. Sentencing Commission Bradley Hayes, Office of Senator Jeff Sessions Eric Sterling, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Jesselyn McCurdy, American Civil Liberties Union Moderator: Kara Gotsch, The Sentencing Project Please RSVP for this brown bag event to Venus Campbell, justice_ [email protected]. For more information, contact The Sentencing Project, 202/628-0871.
Location: 
United States

THE 20-YEAR LEGACY of CRACK & POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING: Senate Staff Briefing

Senate Staff Briefing Sponsored by the Justice Roundtable Friday, October 27, 2006 12:00 – 1:00 226 Dirksen (Bring your brown bag lunch) On October 27, 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The law’s mandatory penalties for crack cocaine offenses are the toughest ever adopted for low-level drug offenses. A defendant convicted with five grams of crack cocaine (the weight of less than two sugar packets) is subject to a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. The same five-year penalty is triggered for powder cocaine only when the offense involves 500 grams, 100 times the minimum quantity for crack. Twenty years later it is time to re- evaluate the implications of this law and determine whether the law’s application reflects Congress’s intent in 1986 when the legislation was enacted. Panelists will discuss the effects of the legislation on drug abuse and public safety, as well as a range of proposals for reform. Join panelists for a frank discussion of this issue. Participants include: Lisa Rich, U.S. Sentencing Commission Bradley Hayes, Office of Senator Jeff Sessions Eric Sterling, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Jesselyn McCurdy, American Civil Liberties Union Moderator: Kara Gotsch, The Sentencing Project Please RSVP for this brown bag event to Venus Campbell, justice_ [email protected]. For more information, contact The Sentencing Project, 202/628-0871. The Sentencing Project Kara Gotsch, [email protected]
Date: 
Fri, 10/27/2006 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: 
United States

Editorial: A Grim Anniversary

Today marks a grim anniversary in US drug policy, the enactment 20 years ago by Congress -- without hearings -- of draconian mandatory minimum sentences that have packed the federal prisons with vast numbers of low-level, nonviolent offenders serving for unjustly long periods of time.

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David Borden
Two who actually appear innocent are Lawrence and Lamont Garrison, twins who worked their way up from a poor, crime-ridden, northeast Washington DC neighborhood to ultimately be admitted to -- and almost graduate from -- Howard University School of Law.

Almost -- a month before graduating, they were swept up in a federal anti-drug operation, apparently "turned in" by an actual player in the drug trade, who needed to give the feds some names to get his sentence reduced. At least that's the way it looks to us -- click here to read a summary we published about the case in Drug War Chronicle six years ago.

Six years ago -- a long time, even if they were guilty of the crimes of which they were accused and convicted. Indecently long -- as is the 20 years the sentences have been on the books, during which time criticism has been leveled at them from numerous quarters and myriad angles: unjust, even violative of human rights, corruptive of the justice system, ineffective but VERY expensive, cruel, counterproductive.

Today a staff briefing in the US Senate is addressing this issue. The politics of drug and crime policy are difficult, and reform to federal sentencing laws has been mostly intractable. But not entirely, and every issue has a tipping point that when the time is ripe can send it in a different direction if the opportunity is seized.

Let us hope that this will be the time. No, let's make it the time.

If Use Doesn't Rise, We Must Legalize

Talkleft reports that the UK is experiencing a drop in marijuana use after reducing penalties for possession.

From The Observer:

The apparent trend is reinforced by British figures which show that the popularity of cannabis in the UK has plummeted, with 600,000 fewer people smoking or eating marijuana than three years ago.

It’s tempting to argue that reduced penalties have led to reduced consumption, but I wouldn’t go that far. The truth, as experts such as Peter Cohen have been saying for quite some time, is that drug policy just doesn’t have much effect on usage rates.

My guess is that a reduction in marijuana use in England would have happened with or without the change in policy. Of course, that being the case, it makes a lot more sense not to arrest people.

The real lesson here is that easing up on marijuana users doesn’t cause a spike in usage. It just doesn’t. This simple and increasingly obvious fact simultaneously refutes every argument against legalization.

So it’s no wonder our drug warriors are vigorously opposing any attempt to experiment with reduced marijuana penalties. If they actually believed that legalization in Colorado or Nevada would be a disaster, their best move would be to step aside and let us learn our lesson.

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United States

Sentencing: Louisiana Supreme Court Hears Case of Heroin Lifers

In the midst of 1970s-style drug war hysteria, Louisiana legislators passed a law mandating life without parole for people convicted of selling heroin. In 2001, the legislature moved to amend that draconian law, amending it so that heroin distribution sentences ran from five to 50 years in prison. That 2001 law also established a "risk review" process for early release of prisoners sentenced under harsh old laws. In 2003, the legislature specifically included the heroin lifers in the group of convicts who could seek redress via the review process, and in 2005, it amended the law to allow inmates to seek a review after serving seven years of their sentences.

More than 90 heroin lifers remain behind bars, many of them now elderly after having spent the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and half of the 2000s behind bars.

Last year, trial court judges in Orleans and St. Tammany parishes, frustrated with the glacial pace at which the reviews were moving, revised downward the sentences of a pair of heroin lifers and ordered their immediate release. The state of Louisiana appealed the decision, and this week the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that the heroin lifers must go through an arduous and extensive review process controlled by the Department of Corrections to seek a sentence reduction and the freedom it would deliver. The trial judges who ordered prisoners released exceeded their jurisdiction, said Graham Bosworth of the New Orleans district attorney's office.

But attorneys representing the heroin lifers argued that recent legislative changes made the old sentences patently illegal and that judges have the authority to resentence those prisoners. "We have to trust people we have on the district court benches to exercise their jurisdiction wisely," said attorney Dwight Doskey.

The two men whose cases are being appealed are Melvin Smith, who was convicted in 1977 and recently ordered released by Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson, who had resentenced him to 28 years -- essentially time served; and Wesley Dick, who was sentenced to life in 2001 just before the law changed. District Judge Patricia Hedges freed him in July after cutting his sentence to 10 years.

In a sign of prosecutorial vindictiveness, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan blocked Smith's release. The elderly Smith remains wheelchair-bound at the Orleans Parish House of Detention pending the Supreme Court decision regarding his fate.

Feature: Cases of Immigrants Deported for Minor Drug Offenses Heard at US Supreme Court This Week

The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in two consolidated cases that question whether immigrants who are legal US residents should face mandatory deportation for small-time offenses such as drug possession. Thousands of immigrants face such wrenching punishment, and according to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, more than a million and a half people have been deported since the introduction of mandatory deportation for "aggravated felonies" under the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act that is being challenged in these cases.

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US Supreme Court
That law expanded the definition of "aggravated felonies" -- crimes for which deportation is mandatory -- beyond serious violent crimes, which had been the previous standard. The cases before the Supreme Court this week revolve around whether offenses that are considered misdemeanors under the federal Controlled Substances Act but are considered felonies under state law in the states where people were convicted can qualify as "aggravated felonies" under the immigration law.

Many of those deported under the immigration law were in fact found guilty of serious crimes, but many others were not. In one case covered by the Drug War Chronicle, Joao Herbert, who was adopted by American parents from a Brazilian orphanage as a young child but who never applied for US citizenship, was arrested as a teenager for selling a small bag of marijuana. He was sentenced to probation, but federal authorities sought successfully to deport him under the 1996 law. Sent to a land he never knew, he scraped by for a few years as an English teacher before being gunned down by Brazilian police in 2004.

In the cases before the court Tuesday, Lopez v. Gonzales and Toledo-Flores v. US, the offenses for which the US seeks to deport immigrants are even more trivial than in Herbert's case. Jose Antonio Lopez was a Sioux Falls, SD, grocery store and taco stand owner who legally emigrated from Mexico in 1985. The married father of two children, who are US citizens, pleaded guilty to telling someone how to obtain cocaine. Such an offense is a misdemeanor under federal law, but was a felony under South Dakota law. Federal immigration officials classified his offense as an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law and deported him to Mexico.

Reymundo Toledo-Flores was arrested for cocaine possession in Texas, where it is a misdemeanor, but when he was caught trying to reenter the country he was hit with a two-year prison sentence because immigration authorities considered his Texas bust an "aggravated felony" under the immigration law. He is appealing the sentence.

"The problem here is that state law and federal law are at odds in determining the gravity of the offense," Justice David Souter said during oral arguments Tuesday. "Isn't that very strange that Congress would have wanted a reading of the statute that would turn its definition of a misdemeanor crime into an aggravated felony for purposes of the immigration laws?" he asked.

Bush administration attorneys argued that immigration officials correctly classified both cases. "The statutory definition of 'aggravated felony' encompasses large categories of criminal conduct under state law, without requiring a federal-law parallel," the US solicitor general wrote in a brief to the court.

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the court Tuesday that the immigration law "looks to state law." If a drug offense is a felony under state law, it is a deportable felony under the federal law, he argued.

But three former Immigration and Naturalization Service general counsel disagreed in a friend of the court brief they submitted. "There is no clear indication that Congress intended the definition of aggravated felony to apply to drug offenses that are... misdemeanors under the federal law," they wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts was thinking along similar lines. "It must give you pause," he told Kneedler, "that your analysis of a term 'drug-trafficking' offense... leads to the conclusion that simple possession equates with drug trafficking."

"Immigrants shouldn't be kicked out of the country for doing what the president of the United States did," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is clear that the type of drug offenses we are talking about here are not the type of offenses Congress intended when it passed that law," he told Drug War Chronicle. "It also seems like this raises equal protection issues because it looks like whether you get deported or not depends on which state you were convicted in. In those states where drug possession is a felony, you get kicked out; in those where it isn't, you don't."

Immigrant rights and civil liberties groups joined in calling on the court to reject the federal government's broad interpretation of the law, and even the Center for Immigration Studies, which generally hews to a hard line on immigration enforcement, was not overly enthusiastic about deporting small-time drug offenders. "If the state legislature has decided this is a serious crime and someone who commits it will get deported, it's not like that person didn't know it was illegal," said Dr. Steven Camarota, director of research for the group. "I don't see a problem with making those people go. In some cases, however, people plead guilty to a crime not realizing they would be subject to deportation, and that raises a fairness issue," he told Drug War Chronicle. "The whole criminal justice system is supposed to temper justice with mercy, but with immigration we've created so many exceptions and waivers that sometimes it's good to come down hard."

For Camarota, the whole debate over deporting immigrants for small-time drug offenses is "small potatoes" compared to the real immigration issues facing the country. "We are talking about a few thousand people when there are 37 million immigrants in the country," he pointed out. "There is nothing wrong with the way in which the government is approaching this, but it does seem like an awful lot of debate over something so small. We should be putting resources into general enforcement of immigration laws."

"The 1996 law is really destructive," said Arnaldo Garcia of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "On any given week, you have 20,000 or so legal permanent residents who committed small offenses sitting in jail under deportation proceedings. That includes things like a 20-year-old who had sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, and it includes things like people getting arrested with small amounts of marijuana on them," he told the Chronicle. "The federal government is trying to institutionalize a double standard. Legal residents have equal rights under our court system, but after they have completed their sentences, they are then subjected to an unfair punishment -- banishment for life. This is a big crack in the foundation of equal treatment under the law."

There is little legal permanent residents can do, said Garcia. "What you can do is make sure you know the law," he said. "If you get arrested, you need to get the advice of an immigration attorney to know the consequences of the charge and whether it's a deportable offense. Some judges will work with you -- doing things like sentencing you to 364 days instead of 366, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony -- but the INS just wants to deport your ass. I've seen people going in for their citizenship tests and immigration is waiting for them because they got busted as a teenager."

The ultimate protection from deportation under the immigration law is to become a US citizen. "That's easier said than done," said Garcia. "There is a huge backlog. I'm working with one family that submitted a reunification petition in 1994. Their case is just coming up now."

Paging Orrin Hatch

Update 10/25/06: Hatch's office informed us that Dallas Austin's parents were instrumental in getting the Senator involved. We've now contacted the D.C. Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in the hopes of tracking down this latest victim's family. They've promised to look into it.

Yet another American has been imprisoned in Dubai on a pitifully small possession charge:

From Gulfnews.com:

Dubai: An American visitor who said he was unaware that he was carrying marijuana with him, which was found in his luggage at airport, will spend four years in jail.

Dubai Court of First Instance found the suspect, identified as M.O. and in his late 30s, guilty of illegally bringing in and possessing 0.14 grams of marijuana.
Two months ago the same thing happened and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch jumped into action:

The release of a music producer from a Dubai jail this week, quick on the heels of his conviction for drug possession, turns out to be a story of high-level string-pulling on the part of Mr. Hatch, the conservative Utah Republican and songwriter, along with Lionel Richie, the singer; Quincy Jones, the music entrepreneur; and an array of well-connected lawyers, businessmen and others, spanning cities and continents.


That case involved a music producer with a small bag of cocaine. This one involves some guy in his thirties with 0.14 grams of marijuana, which is about one puff’s worth. He says he didn’t mean to bring it, which makes sense because it’s not enough to do anything with.

But surely Orrin Hatch will come to this gentleman’s aid. Four years for a weak bong hit’s worth of pot is an even greater injustice than that which Senator Hatch so recently stepped forward to redress.

If Orrin Hatch and Lionel Richie gave them anything of value last time this happened, it could explain why Dubai authorities are going to so much trouble to string people up for pathetically small amounts of drugs.

Please help us by contacting Senator Hatch. If his office won't get directly involved, perhaps they'll at least give us some pointers on how to get an American freed from a foreign prison.

Obviously something’s got to be done about these crazy police in Dubai. In the meantime, if you must go there, buy new clothes and luggage first.

Location: 
United States

Sentencing: Federal Bill to Create Criminal Drug Dealer Registry Introduced

It was just a matter of time. First came the laws mandating that society's favorite demonized criminals, sex offenders, must register their whereabouts with the state even after they have completed serving their sentences. Next, various states began passing legislation requiring convicted methamphetamine cooks to do the same. Now, a Republican congressman from New Mexico, Rep. Steve Pearce, has filed federal legislation that would create a national online "criminal drug dealer" registry and require the states to do the same or risk losing federal aid.

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Do we really want to help kids find the drug dealers?
Last month, Pearce introduced yet another cutesy acronym of a bill, HR 6155, the "Communities Leading Everyone Away From Narcotics through Online Warning Notification Act," or the "CLEAN TOWN Act." Under the proposed bill, anyone convicted of a drug distribution, conspiracy, or possession with intent to distribute offense would be required to register with authorities annually and provide them with their name, address, employer and/or school information, social security number, criminal history, physical description, copy of official identification, and other personal information. Length of registration would vary from five years from the end of sentence for a first offender to 10 years for a second offender to life for a three-time offender.

The bill would require both the US attorney general and the various states to establish such registries. States that failed to comply would be penalized by withholding a percentage of the federal crime control funds they receive through the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Convicted drug dealers could be exempted from registration if they become snitches, or in the anodyne language of the bill, if they provide "substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense."

The bill mandates that states pass laws criminalizing failure to register. Such laws must carry sentences of greater than one year. In other words, they must be felonies.

In a press release touting his new legislative baby, Pearce coached his sponsorship of the bill in terms of protecting the children and gave his constituents credit for the idea. "During our methamphetamine awareness tour across the 2nd District in August, I heard repeatedly that we should treat convicted drug dealers like we do convicted sex offenders," Rep. Pearce said. "Both have the capacity to violate our children and destroy their lives. Our communities need more tools to protect our children. In particular, parents and teachers have a right to know when someone who could poison their son or daughter lives in their neighborhood."

No other legislators have so far stepped forward to cosponsor the bill. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

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