The Supreme Court agreed to resolve a question that has vexed the lower federal courts since Congress enacted a law to narrow the gap between sentences meted out for offenses involving two kinds of cocaine. Selling cocaine in crack form used to subject offenders to the same sentence one would get for selling 100 times as much in powder. The new law, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, reduced the disparity to 18 to 1, at least for people who committed their offenses after the law became effective on Aug. 3, 2010.
The case of the Australian boy arrested on drug charges in Bali offers the opportunity to review our nation's own response to drug use, both here and abroad. While empathy for the boy's family is warranted and genuine, the case should also raise the question of what would happen to someone in Australia caught with a similar small amount of cannabis or other illicit drug.
Eric E. Sterling, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
01 November 2011
If Congress were functioning properly, it would take the time to consider the many potential improvements in drug policy that could save lives by preventing overdose, reducing the spread of HIV, and lessening violence, preventing crime, and saving money. With a commitment to governing, instead of grandstanding, Congress could make a careful analysis and weigh the alternatives.
This paper aims to set out some of the policy and public health issues raised by the appearance of a wide range of emergent psychoactive substances of diverse origin, effect and risk profile (commonly referred to as ‘legal highs’). It will start by considering what is meant by the term ‘legal highs’ and consider the historical context that has framed their appearance and must inform any response. It will then consider some of the approaches that have been adopted by different nations to control their availability and associated harms, including a preliminary assessment of their consequences, both intended and not.
A federal judge has declared Florida's drug law unconstitutional, potentially throwing thousands of criminal cases into jeopardy. U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Orlando issued a ruling Wednesday that struck down the state's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law, saying it violates due process because it doesn't require that prosecutors prove that a person knew he or she possessed illegal drugs. See also: Attorneys seek dismissal of hundreds of local drug cases
More people are arrested in New York City on charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana than on any other crime on the books. Nearly all are black or Latino males under the age of 25, most with no previous convictions. Many have never been arrested before. Last year, the police in New York City arrested more than 50,000 people on the marijuana possession charge, New York State Penal Law 221.10, which makes it a misdemeanor to openly possess pot.
"Sending more people to prison will not reduce drug addiction or improve public health," said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, an advocacy group for people with HIV which works with injecting drug users (IDUs). "Russian prisons are terrible places full of HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases. Drugs are often even more accessible there than anywhere else." She added: "What we need instead of this harsh drug control rhetoric is greater emphasis on rehabilitation, substitution treatment, case management for drug users and protection from HIV."
On June 2, 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy presented its report in New York, calling to break the taboo on debate and reform of international drug control policies. The high-profile panel calls the global war on drugs a failure and recommends a paradigm shift towards harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulation of cannabis. TNI has been closely involved in the initiative and its Latin American predecessor in an advisory capacity. Martin Jelsma of TNI’s drugs policy programme wrote a background paper for the Commission’s meeting in Geneva earlier this year: The development of international drug control: lessons learned and strategic challenges for the future.
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
Forty years after the introduction of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, more than 2.8 million people report using illicit drugs every year in England and Wales. While cannabis remains overwhelmingly the most popular, this Home Office total also includes 800,000 mainly young adults who put the country at the top of the European league table for powder cocaine use.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales initiated a consultation process in order to produce definitive sentencing guidelines for drugs offences for the UK in the future. In order to feed into this process, IDPC, in collaboration with TNI, held an Expert seminar on proportionality in sentencing for drug offences, on 20th May 2011, in London, UK. The seminar was an important gathering of international experts on the subject of proportionality and provided a space for fruitful and in depth discussions on sentencing experiences from around the world. A draft report of the meeting was sent to the Sentencing Council as part of the consultation process on 20th June.
Threshold quantities (TQs) for drug law and policy are being experimented with across many jurisdictions. States seem attracted to their apparent simplicity and use them to determine, for example, whether: a possession or supply offence is made out (e.g. Greece); a matter should be diverted away from the criminal justice system (e.g. Portugal); or a case should fall within a certain sentencing range (e.g. UK).
There has in recent years been a renewed interest in the principle of proportionality in sentencing policy for drug offences. There has been official analysis of the issue by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and several national initiatives that have inscribed a requirement for proportionality when sentencing in statute or penal code, asserted it through the courts, or, as with the UK Consultation on sentencing for drug offences by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales, are continuing to explore the concept through policy processes.
Sponsored by San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, AB 1017aims to give prosecutors more discretion in how they charge weed growers and processors, called "trimmers." According to the bill's author, Mendocino County District Attorney C. David Eyster, mom-and-pop trimmers — many of them economically desperate victims of the country's recession — currently face a felony punishable by sixteen months, or two or three years in prison for manicuring buds. That's because existing law "requires that every person who plants, cultivates, harvests, dries, or processes any marijuana, or any part thereof, except as otherwise provided by law, be punished by imprisonment in the state prison."
The New Zealand Law Commission was asked to address the efficacy of the Misuse of Drugs Act in reducing the demand for, and supply of, drugs prohibited under the International Drug Conventions. The Commission has recommended the existing Act be repealed and replaced by a new Act administered by the Ministry of Health. Justice Hammond said the thrust of the proposed new Act is to facilitate a more effective interface between the criminal justice and health sectors: “We need to recognise that the abuse of drugs is both a health and a criminal public policy problem.”
New Zealand’s 35-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act should be consigned to the rubbish heap of history and replaced with a modern, flexible, health-focussed law fit for purpose for the 21st Century, said the New Zealand Drug Foundation today. The Drug Foundation was responding to the Law Commission’s recommendations for reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, which was tabled today in Parliament. The report makes 144 recommendations for a new legislative and policy approach to reducing the country’s drug problem, and is a result of a comprehensive 2 year review of New Zealand’s obsolete drug law.
In a widely watched You Tube video, U.S. President Barack Obama is asked whether or not the drug war may in fact be counterproductive. Instead of the resounding NO that would have come from any of his recent predecessors, Obama responded: “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” He then qualified his remarks by adding, “I am not in favor of legalization.” Nonetheless, even acknowledging the legitimacy of debate on U.S. drug policy is a significant shift from the past, when successive administrations stifled discussion and routinely labeled anyone promoting alternative approaches to the socalled U.S. “war on drugs” as dangerous and surreptitiously promoting massive drug use and poisoning America’s youth.
Most drug users are not addicted. Most suppliers of drugs are not dealers. These central truths about patterns of drug use in Britain are incompatible with the policies adopted by those in power who believe ever more muscular enforcement will somehow steer young people away from taking them. In drugs policy, there remains an unparalleled disconnect between power and knowledge. And power means both ministers and media who, on drugs policy, are intertwined in a deadly embrace.
The Sentencing Advisory Council has released a report on community attitudes towards the use of alternatives to imprisonment in Victoria. The report is based on the Victorian component of a national survey of public attitudes to sentencing, supported by the Australian Research Council. Survey participants were asked about the use of alternatives to imprisonment as a way of addressing the increasing number of people in prison and as a way of dealing with certain types of offenders. The prison alternatives suggested to participants included supervision, counselling, treatment and community work.