5 Years for Passing a Joint: Stop this Bill Now
Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner has launched his next assault on freedom. The full House Judiciary Committee is set to vote as early as next week on H.R. 1528, which creates a new group of mandatory miniumum penalties for non-violent drug offenses, including a five year penalty for passing a joint to someone who's been in drug treatment.
That's right: Passing a joint to someone who used to be in drug treatment will land you in federal prison for a minimum of five years.
The "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005" (H.R. 1528) was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on April 6, and it has already passed out of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Marijuana Policy Project reports:
In addition to the shocking joint-passing provision described above,the bill would also create a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time conviction of distributing a small amount of marijuana to a person under 18 years of age ... and a 10-year sentence for a second offense of distributing marijuana to a person under 21. By comparison, the average time served by convicted rapists in this country is about seven years.
MPP does not condone the distribution of marijuana to minors, nor do we advocate the use of marijuana by people recovering from substance
abuse problems. But we do believe that judges should have discretion to determine whether or not offenders in these circumstances deserve to be imprisoned for sentences as long as five or 10 years. If these mandatory minimum sentences are enacted, judges'hands will be tied.
This bill has traction because it also contains a section that serves as the House Republican leadership's response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made the Federal Sentencing Guidelines advisory, rather than mandatory.* The Republican leadership is highly motivated to pass this bill -- and with it, the harsh new penalties related to marijuana.
The bill will now be debated and voted on by the full House Judiciary
Committee and -- if the committee passes the bill -- the full House
will then vote on it.
- Makes the federal sentencing guidelines a system of mandatory minimum sentences through a "Booker-fix" provision.
- Creates new mandatory minimums that further erode judicial discretion.
- Eliminates the safety valve for low-level drug offenders.
- Makes virtually every drug crime committed in urban areas subject to "drug free zone" penalties that carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.
- Punishes defendants for the "relevant conduct" of co-conspirators that occurred BEFORE the defendant joined the conspiracy.
As written, H.R. 1528 would:
- Effectively make the federal sentencing guidelines a system of mandatory minimum sentences through a "Booker-fix" provision. This provision forbids judges from departing below the guideline sentence in all but a few cases.
- Make the sale of any quantity of any controlled substance (including anything greater than five grams of marijuana) by a person older than 21 to a person younger than 18 subject to a ten-year federal mandatory minimum sentence.
- Create a new three-year mandatory minimum for parents who witness or learn about drug trafficking activities, targeting or even near their children, if they do not report it to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours and do not provide full assistance investigating, apprehending, and prosecuting the offender.
- Create a new 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for any parent committing a drug trafficking crime in or near the presence of their minor child.
- Mandate life in prison for persons 21 years or older convicted a second time of distributing drugs to a person under 18 or convicted a first time after a felony drug conviction has become final.
- Increase to five years the federal mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, college, public library, drug treatment facility (or any place where drug treatment, including classes, are held), or private or public daycare facilities - in short, almost anywhere in cities across the U.S.
- Eliminate the federal "safety valve," granting it only when the government certifies that the defendant pled guilty to the most serious readily provable offense (the one that carries the longest sentence), and has "done everything possible to assist substantially in the investigation and prosecution of another person," and would prohibit the federal "safety-valve" in cases where drugs were distributed or possessed near a person under 18, where the defendant delayed his or her efforts to provide substantial assistance to the government, or provided false, misleading or incomplete information.
This is absolutely sickening. As we said last week,
Sensenbrenner is a one-man disaster for justice. He's been the driving force behind the Real ID Act and bills to strip judges of their discretion in sentencing and subpoena judges' records. In 2004, he wanted to add mandatory minimum penalties to non-violent drug offenses (one example: a five year mandatory minimum sentence for passing a joint to someone who had been in a treatment center.)
Don't let him get away with it.
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