sentencing

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U.S.: Federal Numbers Show Marijuana Smuggling Plummets After States Legalize

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Federal marijuana trafficking offenses are on a steep decline nationwide as more states legalize recreational cannabis.

According to the latest drug trafficking statistics from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), such offenses have fallen sharply since 2012, the year that Colorado and Washington residents decided at the ballot box to legalize weed, reports Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post.

The decline continues through 2015, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

"The number of marijuana traffickers rose slightly over time until a sharp decline in fiscal year 2013 and the number continues to decrease," according to the report. This, mind you, while trafficking in other drugs -- particularly meth and heroin -- appears to be on the rise.

The USSC's numbers show that at the federal level, marijuana trafficking is becoming less of a problem. Legalization could be reducing demand for black market sales, state prosecutors could have changed how they charge defendants, or there could be another explanation altogether. The data doesn't provide enough details to draw a conclusion, according to researchers.

U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 58 People In Federal Prison For Drugs

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Drug Policy Alliance: The President is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of 58 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 61 individuals on March 30, 2016, 95 people in December of 2015, 45 people in July, 22 people in March 2015, and 8 people in December of 2014.

All of those who received commutations on Thursday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, and many were victims of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine.

Five of the individuals whose sentences were commuted on Thursday were imprisoned at least in part due to at least one marijuana charge.

President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

"The President is using his constitutional power, but he can only do so much," said Michael Collins, deputy director at Drug Policy Alliance's office of national affairs. "There is legislation in the Senate that would reduce mandatory minimums and have a greater impact on the prison population, and Leader McConnell needs to bring the bill up for a vote."

U.S.: Obama Grants Clemency To 61 People In Prison For Drug Offenses

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Clemencies Come As Advocates Push Mitch McConnell on Sentencing Reform

Drug Policy Alliance: The President is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

President Barack Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of 61 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses.

This follows the commutation of 95 people in December, 2015, 45 people in July of that year, 22 people in March 2015, and 8 people in December of 2014. All of those who received commutations Wednesday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, and many were victims of the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine.

To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals – more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences.

“The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws,” President Obama wrote in a letter to the 61 individuals receiving clemency on Wednesday.

The President cautioned those receiving clemency that what they do with this unexpected opportunity reflects not only on each individual person, but also on all those still behind bars who are seeking the same shot at a new life.

President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

Kentucky: Press Conference To Push Senator McConnell To Schedule Criminal Justice Bill

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Over 30,000 Signatories Demand a Vote on Criminal Justice Reform

On the afternoon of March 29, Kentucky advocates, including faith leaders and students, will hold a press conference outside the Lexington office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, to demand that he bring an important criminal justice reform bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expand reentry programming and early release, among other things.

The bill has broad bipartisan support, with 29 Republican and Democratic Senators currently sponsoring. The bill was passed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee last October, and is now awaiting a vote on the floor. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently promised to bring criminal justice reform legislation up for a vote, but Mitch McConnell has not made the same commitment.

Advocates will deliver a petition that was organized by Drug Policy Alliance, Change.org, #cut 50, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The petition was signed by over 30,000 people, and calls for McConnell to schedule a vote on the bill.

Who:
Rev. Dean W. Bucalos, Program Coordinator, Mission Behind Bars and Beyond.
Reverend D. Anthony Everett, Pastor, Wesley United Methodist Church (Lexington, KY), Commissioner At Large, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

Maine: Voters Oppose Punitive Drug Policies, Support Decriminalization

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Findings Come as Legislature Considers Bills Increasing Penalties for Drug Possession

Results Similar to Poll in New Hampshire Which Also Fund Majority Support for Drug Decriminalization

A substantial majority of Maine voters support decriminalizing drug possession, according to a survey conducted over the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Sixty-four percent of voters in Maine think people caught with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be evaluated for drug issues, offered treatment but not be arrested or face any jail time. Seventy-one percent say substantially reducing incarceration is somewhat or very important to them.

The poll results come as the legislature considers legislation backed by the Attorney General that could roll back groundbreaking reforms passed last session that reduced drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. The proposed legislation (LD 1554) would make possession of 30 milligrams (often less than one single pill) or more of prescription opioids and any amount of certain other drugs into felony offenses, continuing the criminalization of drug users and wasting scarce resources on incarceration instead of treatment and prevention.

Louisiana: Sentencing Reprieve Requested For Man Given 13 Years For 2 Joints

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The Drug Policy Alliance on Tuesday formally requested Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to grant Bernard Noble a gubernatorial reprieve and release him from prison, where he has served more than four years behind bars having been sentenced to a term of 13.3 years of hard labor without the opportunity for parole for possessing the equivalent of two marijuana cigarettes.

Pursuant to Article IV, Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution, the Governor has the absolute power to issue reprieves of persons convicted of crimes against the state. Drug Policy Alliance has written Governor Jindal asking him to exercise his power of office by staying Noble’s unjust sentence and setting him free.

Legislation signed into law by Governor Jindal earlier this year would make Noble a free man today had it been the law at the time of his offense. Because the new law is not retroactive in its application, a gubernatorial reprieve is required for Noble’s release. Noble has been a model prisoner during his incarceration.

Back in March, Gov. Jindal denied a clemency request from Noble; the reason given was that Noble hadn't yet served 10 years in prison.

U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 95 People

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Clemencies Come As Congress Looks More Likely Than Ever To Pass Sentencing Reform

Drug Policy Alliance: The President Is Acting; Congress Must Step Up Too

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

President Barack Obama on Friday commuted the sentences of 95 people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses. This follows the commutation of 45 people in July, 22 people in March, and 8 people in December of 2014. All of those who received commutations on Friday were serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

In taking this step, the President has now issued 170 commutations, the vast majority to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug law violations under draconian sentencing laws. President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

Two marijuana lifers were among those whose sentences were commuted by the President on Friday.

New Jersey: Son of Musician Peter Tosh Launches Fundraising Campaign to Battle Marijuana Charges

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Charged In New Jersey For Posession With Intent To Distribute Marijuana, Peter Tosh's son Jawara McIntosh Faces 10-20 Years In Jail If Convicted

Jawara “Tosh1” McIntosh, son of the, legendary reggae artist Peter Tosh, is fighting what he believes is a grave injustice for the possession of marijuana. As a Rastafarian, McIntosh argues, “I was raised in the tradition of Rastafari, which is not simply a religion but a way of life. And in the Rastafarian tradition, herb, also known as cannabis, is a sacrament we use freely for spiritual purposes. Besides the fact that the use of this sacred plant should be protected by the Constitution, it is utterly ridiculous that a plant could ever be classified as a drug.”

Legal fees and debt from the sizable bail are mounting. In response, Tosh1 and the Peter Tosh Estate have launched an Indiegogo Crowdfunding account to help McIntosh fight the charges. The account is now live at: www.indiego.com. The decriminalization of cannabis has become a hot topic in recent months, and will certainly be a campaign issue in the 2016 elections.

In fact, it is a widely held opinion among lawmakers that the criminal justice system should be reformed. Recently at the NAACP’s annual convention in Philadelphia, President Barack Obama cited the “long history of inequity in the criminal justice system in America,” and argued that the system was “particularly skewed by race and wealth.”

U.S.: New Drug Sentencing Guidelines Mean 6,000 Will Be Released From Prison Next Month

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Move Will Right Some Wrongs of Extreme Drug Sentencing Laws

Starting November 1, 6,000 federal prisoners are set to be released from federal prison, a move that is the result of changes made by the U.S. Sentencing Commission last year that lowered federal sentencing guidelines for people convicted under draconian Drug War-era laws.

“It warms my heart to hear that 6,000 people will be coming home,” said Anthony Papa, manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), who spent 12 years behind bars on a mandatory minimum drug sentence. “The drug war has devastated families and communities and it is time for the healing to begin.”

This development reflects efforts underway in Congress and by the Obama Aadministration to reform federal drug sentencing laws, as well as a broader effort to adapt federal policy to overwhelming public support for reforming drug laws. More prisoners are expected to be released under the Sentencing Commission guidelines.

The Commission estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for a slightly earlier release.

Over the past year, federal judges have been reviewing cases with prosecutors. Prisoners who were deemed a threat to public safety were denied re-sentencing.

Maine: Former Top Drug Prosecutor Gets 16-Year Prison Sentence For Child Pornography

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The former top drug prosecutor in Maine -- who fled out of state after he was convicted of child pornography charges -- is going to federal prison for almost 16 years.

James Cameron, convicted in 2010 of 13 counts of child porn, had posted bail and was released pending an appeal, reports Catherine Pegram at WABI TV.

He took off out of state in November 2012, and was caught in New Mexico a month later.

Cameron's lawyer was pushing for a 6-1/2 year sentence.

Cameron was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Bangor to 15 years and 9 months in prison.

Photo: WABI TV

California: Prop 47 Takes Significant Step Towards Ending Mass Incarceration and War On Drugs

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Passage of Proposition 47 Will Spare Thousands From Unnecessary Time Behind Bars and Save Billions of Taxpayer Dollars

DPA: Overwhelming Support Sends Powerful National Message

California voters on Tuesday took a significant step toward ending mass incarceration and the War On Drugs by approving Proposition 47. On the heels of reforming the state’s “three strikes” law in the 2012 election, Californians overwhelmingly voted to change six low-level, nonviolent offenses – including simple drug possession – from felonies to misdemeanors.

“The overwhelming support for this reform sends a powerful message nationally, demonstrating that voters are not just ready but eager to reduce prison populations in ways that can enhance public safety,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

“This is a win for everyone in California,” said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Stephen Downing (Ret.), a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “We’ll save millions keeping nonviolent drug offenders out of state prison, and those resources will be redirected toward public education, victim services, and mental health treatment programs that actually address the problems of addiction.”

Pennsylvania: Lawmaker Proposes Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Stack, a Philadelphia Democrat who's one of six candidates vying for his party's nomination for lieutenant governor, on Wednesday introduced measures to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Two bills introduced this week, SB 1307 and SB 1308, would reduce penalties for having up to an ounce of cannabis, and make it easier for people already convicted of marijuana charges to have their records cleared, reports Mary Wilson at WITF.

Under Stack's bills, the first two marijuana possession charges would be summary offenses, the least serious charges in Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. District attorneys would have more discretion in charging third offenses.

"It's just a no-brainer than too often our criminal justice system is being backlogged by this type of crime and we need to decriminalize it," Stack said. "It's going to save us billions of dollars in criminal justice expenses and prison costs."

Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in prison and a $500 fine for the first offense under current Pennsylvania law.

US: Forced Guilty Pleas in Drug Cases; Threat of Draconian Sentences Means Few Risk Trial

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Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats.

Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.

The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.

Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.

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