Sentencing Commission Considering Retroactivity in Amendments

Earlier this spring, the US Sentencing Commission passed some amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines that would reform the penalty structure for certain drug offenses.

One amendment, passed 7-0, would change the plant-weight ratio use for marijuana to 1 plant = 100 grams. (Currently 1 plant is considered 100 grams for 49 plants or fewer, but becomes 1 kilo [1000 grams] for 50 plants or more, with the effect that defendants convicted for 50 plants spend almost 3 times as long in prison as those convicted for 49 plants.)

Another amendment, passed 4-3, would reduce sentences for crack cocaine offenses to the level of powder cocaine. Currently 1 gram of crack is considered equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine. (Crack prosecutions are applied disproportionately to African-Americans, and have had a staggering impact in terms of sheer numbers of people incarcerated for long time periods.)

A third amendment would provide a two point reduction in offense level for certain non-violent, first-time offenders who qualify for the "safety-valve" exemption included in last year's Crime Bill, essentially matching the exemption the law now grants from the mandatory minimum statutes.

The amendments will become law if Congress doesn't act by November 1 to overturn them. What the Sentencing Commission has *not* decided yet is whether the amendments will apply retroactively to current inmates. Please write the commission and ask them to make the following amendments retroactive:

Amendment #5:
Equalize crack and powder cocaine
Amendment #8:
Use standard weight of 100 grams for each marijuana plant
Amendment #7:
Provide additional two-point reduction for defendants who qualified for the safety-valve.

The commission only accepts public comment by mail. Please send letters to:

Public Comment -- Retroactivity
US Sentencing Commission
South Lobby, Suite 2-500
One Columbus Circle, NE
Washington, DC 20002-8002

Letters must be postmarked by June 16.

Form letters and additional information are available from:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, #200-South
Washington, DC 20004
Phone: (202) 457-5790
Fax: (202) 457-8564.

Updates from the FAMM hotline: (703) 685-6860

From The Activist Guide, Issue #6, June '95, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.

The next article is: Drugs and the Information Superhighway.