item 1: H.R. 3315 - A Better Crime Bill
There's a glimmer of hope for those of us who find the Crime Bill passed by the Senate objectionable. Representative Craig Washington of Texas has introduced an alternative bill which has less bad and more good in it. While Washington's bill would put more cops on the street (the public wants a crime bill and it's going to get one), it doesn't include the draconian penalties (three strikes you're out, several new death penalties, for example) that the Senate's bill contains. In fact, H.R. 3315 would eliminate mandatory minimums (!), and it includes forfeiture reform, a commission similar to that in H.R. 3100, and treatment programs both in and out of prisons. One of the stated purposes of H.R. 3315 is to make the criminal justice system "more fair". A fairly large number of representatives have cosponsored it, including hard-line anti-drug warrior Charles Rangel. H.R. 3315 is a major opportunity for reformers to turn something very negative (knee-jerk politicians pretending to be "tough on crime" into something very positive. I still recommend that we work for H.R. 3100, but at the same time work for H.R. 3315. I will soon send out a list of cosponsors of H.R. 3315. The Crime Bill is likely to be a fast-paced project, perhaps over by the middle of March. There's not much time left to lend our support for H.R. 3315 and H.R. 3100 - let's not miss this historical opportunity.
item 2: Federal Sentencing Comm. to Consider Lowering Marijuana Penalties
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has submitted a proposed amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that would effectively reduce marijuana sentences by years. Current guidelines use a weight equivalency of 100 grams per marijuana plant to determine sentencing - but only for the first 49 plants. Plants number 50 and up are considered to weigh 1 kilogram, ten times as much. This has the perverse effect that a person growing 49 marijuana plants receives a sentence ranging from 10 to 16 months, while a person growing just one plant more receives a sentence ranging from 33 to 41 months, two to four times long. The FAMM amendment would reduce that sentence to 15 to 21 months, by having the 100 gram weight equivalency used for all plants, not just the first 49.
There's real hope that this reform could become real - the chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Judge William Wilkins, has endorsed some sentencing reform, saying "It's important not to overpunish". We can help by writing to the Sentencing Commission and asking them to enact FAMM's amendment, called the "Marijuana Amendment". All such correspondence must be received by the Sentencing Commission no later than March 18th. When you write, be sure to state clearly that you support the Marijuana Amendment, establishing a 100 gram-per-plant equivalency for 50 or more plants. And say that you wish the reform to be retroactive (get some people out early). Send your letter to:
Public Information Specialist
U.S. Sentencing Commission
1 Columbus Circle, N.E.
Suite 2-500, South Lobby
Washington, D.C. 20002-8002
You can also call the Sentencing Commission, at 202/273-4590, to voice your support for the Marijuana Amendment.
Passage of this amendment could literally mean years of freedom for many people. Please send your letter before March 15th.
Information for these two announcements was supplied courtesy of Rob Kampia of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). You can get more information about NORML by calling 202/483-5500, faxing to 202/483-0057, or writing to:
1001 Connecticut Ave, N.W., Suite 1010
Washington, D.C. 20036
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