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Tag: Drug Law Reform

Sentencing Commission Makes Reduction in Drug Sentences Retroactive

Update: Here is Attorney General Eric Holder's press release endorsing the Sentencing Commission's action.

At my direction, the Bureau of Prisons will begin notifying federal inmates of the opportunity to apply for a reduction in sentence immediately. This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted today to make the upcoming two level decrease in drug offense levels under the sentencing guidelines retroactive to cover those already serving sentences. Here is the press release.

The effective date for reductions for those already serving sentences will be delayed until November, 2015, so that courts can consider public safety risks. In other words, the retroactive application is not mandatory. Inmates can begin filing motions in November, 2014, but the reduction won't go into effect until November, 2015.

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DOJ Announces Broadened Clemency Criteria for Drug Offenders

On Monday, the Justice Department announced it would soon be implementing new and broader criteria for drug offenders seeking clemency.

Today, the Justice Department announced the new criteria. It is a welcome sea change:

The Justice Department is encouraging nonviolent federal inmates who have behaved in prison, have no significant criminal history and have already served more than 10 years behind bars to apply for clemency, officials announced Wednesday.

The new criteria:

  • They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  • They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
  • They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  • They do not have a significant criminal history;
  • They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  • They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

Thank you Obama Administration. This is what change looks like. [More...]

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U.S. Sentencing Commission Proposes Drug Guideline Reductions

Via Sentencing Law and Policy, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has issued this press release calling for comments about a suggested two level reduction in offense level for all drug offenses under the federal sentencing guidelines. The proposed reduction would amount to about 11 months per sentence but would not (and could not) affect mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.

The Commission says the amendment would reduce the number of inmates in the federal system: [More...]

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Mexican Military and Drug Cops Catching the Little Fish

A new report released last month by the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA)has some interesting statistics on Mexican and Central American drug arrests.

The unprecedented one-year comparative study of the drug laws and prison systems in eight Latin American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

The findings show that:

The weight of the law falls on the most vulnerable individuals, overcrowding the prisons, but allowing drug trafficking to flourish.

How so? [More...]

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Colo. Commission Recommends Lowering Drug Penalties

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJC) has issued recommendations to the state legislature to reduce penalties for possession of drugs.

If Colorado legislators adopt the recommendations, possessing up to 4 ounces of marijuana would become a petty offense instead of a criminal misdemeanor, and possessing 8 to 16 ounces would become a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice also favored lower-level felony charges for possessing a few grams of cocaine or methamphetamine and reducing the charge for illegally possessing various prescription drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. It excepted possession of "date-rape" drugs, which would remain a felony.

The Commission members include representatives from all parts of the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, legislators, probation officers, judges and law enforcement. The full report is here (pdf.)

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U.S. Drug Czar Addresses U.N. Report Calling for Drug Decriminalization

Update: At the press conference today, Tom Angell of LEAP asked Gil Kerlikowske if in light of the report and others calling for consideration of legalization, whether discussion about it might not be a good thing. His answer:

"As regards legalization, it is not in the President's vocabulary and it's not in mine."

***

Via Huffington Post, the U.N. today released its 2009 World Drug Report report and reversed course. The report endorses drug decriminalization. [More...]

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Reasons to Legalize "Hard" Drugs

(Guest Post by Boulder, CO criminal defense attorney Lenny Frieling:)

In a large South American country, a farmer looks out from his veranda over his two main crops. On the right side of the rutted dirt, row upon row of coffee are growing in the high mountain air. To the left, coca grows in equally ordered rows. Both crops require tending, and both require some degree of processing to yield roasted coffee beans on one side, processed cocaine on the other.

Both are transported to the United States. In addition to the shipping expenses, the coffee requires the payment of various tariffs, while the coca shipments are accompanied by gangs, bribes, guns, and related violence, to the extent that some towns in Northern Mexico are “owned” by drug cartels. Coffee arrives on US grocery shelves at $6 to $12 a pound. Cocaine arrives at around $44,000 a pound. [More..]

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Our New Drug Czar on Legalization: An Emphatic "No"

Via Tom at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition: New drug czar Gil Kerlikowske was on KUOW radio today, talking about his new role.

He called the idea of legalization "waving the white flag" and said "legalization is off the the charts when it comes to discussion, from my viewpoint" and that "legalization vocabulary doesn't exist for me and it was made clear that it doesn't exist in President Obama's vocabulary."

Regarding marijuana, he said, "It's a dangerous drug" and, regarding its medical benefits, he said, "we will wait for evidence on whether smoked marijuana has any medicinal benefits - those aren't in." [More...]

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A Wiser Drug Policy

The New York City Bar Association's Committee on Drugs and the Law has issued a short report, A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition, Fifteen Years Later (pdf.)

They make several recommendations.

Today the Committee makes a renewed call for a serious discussion of U.S. drug policy through a focus on the medical paradigm and the Controlled Substances Act.

The medical paradigm is one of three for legitimate use of psychoactive substances. The other two are sacramental (think peyote) and recreational. Our federal drug laws are tied to the medical. Among the recommended changes: [More...]

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Friday Evening : Puff the Magic Dragon

  • Council on Hemispheric Affairs: Evidence Mounts that the drug war is unwinnable and that a debate over legalization and decriminalization should not be met by presidential giggles

[Hat tip for song to MSNBC's David Shuster.]

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Hillary Clinton, the Drug War and Drug Treatment

Kudos to Hillary Clinton for acknowledging that "our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade."

That's exactly right and it's way past time for the U.S. to make a serious effort to curb that demand instead of spending billions on incarcerating drug offenders.

Pew's recent study--"One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections"--provides a vivid picture of just how little we do to curb demand for drugs. [More...]

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New Report on Rockefeller Drug Laws

The New York Civil Liberties Union today released a report on the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

The report – The Rockefeller Drug Laws: Unjust, Irrational, Ineffective – presents overwhelming evidence that New York’s mandatory minimum drug-sentencing scheme has failed to improve public safety or deter drug use. It documents the grave harm the drug laws cause to low-income communities of color, and it calls on lawmakers to adopt a public health approach to addressing substance abuse.

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NY Assembly to Vote on Reform of Rockefeller Drug Laws Today

35 years of draconian drug offender sentencing may come to a halt in New York as the Assembly votes today on reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The New York State Assembly is set to vote today on legislation that would allow judges to send drug offenders to substance abuse treatment instead of prison. The legislation would also allow thousands of prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug offenses to have their sentences reduce or commuted.

It’s the latest step in a long campaign to repeal the draconian Rockefeller laws. The laws impose lengthy minimum sentences on drug offenders, even those with no prior convictions. The laws have disproportionately targeted people of color, while giving prosecutors de facto control over how long convicts are jailed.

The Albany Times Union says Just Say Yes to Drug Law Reform. Our post from last week on this is here.

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Rockefeller Drug Laws: Big Changes Ahead

In the good news department, New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws are expected to take a big blow this week as the legislature is poised to pass new laws granting judges more discretion in sentencing.

The Assembly is expected to pass legislation on Tuesday that would once again give judges the discretion to send those found guilty of having smaller amounts of illegal drugs to substance-abuse treatment instead of prison and allow thousands of inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to apply to have their sentences reduced or commuted.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office is preparing legislation that it plans to present to Senate leaders on Monday that would also give judges discretion in sentencing, according to a senior administration official involved in drafting the bills. But for now, the governor is not taking a position on whether sentences should be reduced for some prisoners.

Mandatory minimums were a terrible and unjust solution to the problems that plagued New York in the '70's. I hope the legislators hold firm and make relief retroactive to those already serving these awful sentences. [More...]

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