The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to stay on the sidelines of future pot legalization campaigns – already supported by groups plotting ballot campaigns in 2016 – and pour resources into fights for criminal justice reform. One model to replicate is California's Proposition 47, approved by 58 percent to lower penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. "We would love to be able to have ballot initiatives in a number of states that may look very similar to Proposition 47," says ACLU's Alison Holcomb . "Hopefully we will be able to find states where we can go further and say, ‘Let’s decriminalize the possession of drugs and let’s talk about what we can do to address drug use and abuse.’"
A number of leading figures in Canadian public health are criticizing the federal government's approach to drug policy, suggesting political ideology is trumping scientific evidence. In a two-pronged attack, the chief medical officers of health for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are publishing a commentary in the journal Open Medicine that calls on the government to rethink strategies like minimum mandatory sentences for minor drug-related offences.
Rafael Lemaitre (Communications director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy)
02 December 2011
The complexity and scale of our drug problem requires a nationwide effort to support smart drug policies that reduce drug use and its consequences. The Obama Administration has been engaged in a government-wide effort to reform our nation's drug policies and restore balance to the way we deal with the drug problem. We have pursued a variety of alternatives that abandon an unproductive enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach to drug control and acknowledge we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem and, further, that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, not some "moral failing."
The United States government spends more than $7 billion annually to enforce marijuana prohibition in shockingly cruel ways, but the efforts have not deterred marijuana use. The side-effects of pot are minimal, especially when compared to legal, often lethal drugs like OxyContin or Xanax. The consequences of a marijuana arrest, however, can be far more damaging than the drug itself. America’s legal system continues to treat the plant as if the 1920s propaganda film Reefer Madness were true. In the United States -- where a marijuana arrest occurs every 42 seconds, on average -- the war on pot has disastrous consequences for its victims.
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.
Calling it an issue America can’t afford to ignore, President Barack Obama laid out an expansive vision for fixing the criminal justice system. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply doesn’t fit the crime,” Obama told a crowd of 3,300 in Philadelphia. Low-level drug dealers, for example, owe a debt to society, but not a life sentence or 20-year prison term, he said. The United States needed to reevaluate an “aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth.” Working in Obama’s favor: tentative but optimistic signs of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. (See also: President Obama for the prisoners)
Canada’s new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders are based on “very bad criminal law policy” and constitute a threat to public health as well as the concept of judicial proportionality, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Arbour says. The law should, and almost certainly will, face a justifiable constitutional challenge, Arbour adds of the omnibus crime legislation, Bill C-10, which received royal assent in March. Forcing judges to impose minimum sentences for drug offences endangers the legal precept of proportionality, under which judges must tailor the level of punishment to the severity of the crime, adds the former United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
People who smuggle drugs will face more lenient sentences if they have been exploited, under new guidelines. The change in approach on "drug mules" forms part of new comprehensive rules on drugs offences from the Sentencing Council for England and Wales. The council said judges should distinguish between those who have been exploited by gangs and criminals heavily involved in the drugs trade. But it said large-scale drugs producers should expect longer jail terms.
What's the smallest unit of celebration? A whooplet? I need one to mark the news that sentencing for drug offences, in some cases, will be shortened. Following new guidelines from the sentencing council from the end of February those found to have bought drugs to share with friends rather than to profit from them, and those found to have imported drugs under duress, can expect to be locked up slightly less often, and for slightly less long.
Appearing at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled officials from the Treasury Department over why criminal charges were not filed against officials at HSBC who helped launder hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels. “HSBC paid a fine, but no one individual went to trial, no individual was banned from banking, and there was no hearing to consider shutting down HSBC’s activities here in the United States,” Warren said.