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Crime Bill: Probably Two Weeks in Which to Act

The following Crime Bill update was written by Rob Kampia of NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), and has been endorsed by FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums. (Some DRCNet material has been inserted as well.) Please help us make this reprehensible legislation less bad.

TO: All activists who are able to receive this fax or e-mail message.

FROM: Rob Kampia, Chapter Coordinator

DATE: Monday, May 16 (The last fax was sent out on April 19.)

RE: You probably have up to 2 weeks to contact the Senate/House conference committee.


(For a copy of a more complete overview of the crime bill, please call the NORML office.)

In November, the U.S. Senate passed a crime bill that contains hundreds of widely criticized, "tough on crime" provisions. This bill was sent to the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 3355. Earlier, U.S. Representative Craig Washington (D - Texas) had introduced H.R. 3315, an alternative crime bill that would have abolished all mandatory minimum sentences and reformed the civil asset forfeiture laws, among other things. NORML members supported Mr. Washington's bill.

Neither of these bills passed the House. Instead, the House passed H.R. 4092, another unfocused bill that isn't as bad as the Senate's version. Among other things, this bill:

1. Allows the death penalty for drug "kingpins" even when death does not result from the crime. Individuals who are convicted in federal court of a continuing criminal enterprise involving 60,000 kilograms of marijuana or 60,000 plants (or seedlings) are eligible for the death penalty. Hence, someone who is accused by a government informant of growing 60,000 plants in a conspiracy over any number of years can get the electric chair.

2. Provides more than $10 billion to help states build and operate new prisons. These cells cannot be reserved for violent offenders. As penalties increase for marijuana-related crimes, new prisons will provide the space needed to house even more marijuana consumers.

3. Includes a "three strikes and you're out" provision which allows a "serious" drug offense to count as a first, second, and/or third strike. Those who are convicted on three separate instances of committing "serious" crimes--such as rape, murder, robberies involving violence, and certain drug-related felonies--will receive mandatory life prison sentences if the third conviction is on the federal level. Possession or trafficking of 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana, or even growing 1,000 plants or seedlings regardless of their weight or gender, counts as a "serious" drug crime.

NORML members and other activists across the country who acted on the regular announcements from the national office of NORML apparently had an impact: On April 19, during a diatribe on the House floor in support of his "three strikes and you're out" amendment, Rep. Gerald Solomon (R - New York) charged, "The ACLU and the National Organization for Legalizing Marijuana [sic] are telling people, and I think I just heard it on the floor here, that this amendment would apply to the possession of small amounts of marijuana."

Your messages are getting through. Keep up the good work!


Because the Senate and House have passed different crime bills, leaders from the Senate and House must get together in what is called a "conference committee" to reconcile the differences between the bills. These leaders, who are called "conferees," are currently meeting informally to discuss these matters. By the time the conference committee meets publicly, the conferees will have already decided what the final bill will look like. Hence, the time to act is now.

The informal discussions will continue for at least two weeks, but it is important to act as soon as possible while the conferees' opinions are still being molded. However, it is possible that the bill will not leave conference committee for many months because of the controversy over banning assault weapons. The bill to do so, which passed the House on May 5 by a two-vote margin, might be included as part of the crime bill package.

When a crime bill is finally approved by the conference committee, it must pass both the House and the Senate, and then President Clinton must sign it into law.

Although we cannot be sure of who the Senate conferees will be, we can take a good guess:


                                                Tel # (202)     Fax # (202)
1. Sen. Joseph Biden (D - Delaware)             224-5042        224-0139 

2. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D - Vermont)             224-4242        224-3595 

3. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D - Ohio)            224-2315        224-6519 

4. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D - Massachusetts)         224-4543        224-2417 

5. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D - Arizona)          224-4521        224-2302
6. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R - Utah)                  224-5251        224-6331 

7. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R - South Carolina)     224-5972        224-1300 

8. Sen. Alan Simpson (R - Wyoming)              224-3424        224-1315 

9. Sen. Charles Grassley (R - Iowa)             224-3744        224-6020


                                                Tel # (202)     Fax # (202)
1. Rep. Jack Brooks (D - Texas)                 225-6565        225-1584 

2. Rep. Don Edwards (D - California)            225-3072        225-6193 

3. Rep. John Conyers (D - Michigan)             225-5126        225-0072 

4. Rep. Bill Hughes (D - New Jersey)            225-6572        225-8530 

5. Rep. Mike Synar (D - Oklahoma)               225-2701        225-2796 

6. Rep. Charles Schumer (D - New York)          225-6616        225-4183
7. Rep. Hamilton Fish, Jr. (R - New York)       225-5441        225-0962 

8. Rep. Henry Hyde (R - Illinois)               225-4561        * 226-1240 

9. Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R - California)        225-4176        * 226-1279 

10. Rep. Bill McCollum (R - Florida)            225-2176        225-0999 

11. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R - Wisconsin) 225-5101        225-3190
Address for any U.S. Representative:    Address for any U.S. Senator: 

The Honorable Henry Hyde:               The Honorable Joseph Biden 

House of Representatives                United States Senate 

Washington, D.C. 20515                  Washington, D.C. 20510


1. Before May 25, please call, mail, or fax all 20 members of Congress listed above, as well as your own Senators and Representatives. (If you live in the state of one of the Senators or the district ofone of the Representatives, put extra effort into influencing his opinion. He wants your vote!) Stress the following points:

- "As an American citizen concerned about crime, I ask that you do not pass a crime bill that increases penalties for non-violent drug violations. Specifically, I ask that you take the following positions during your conference committee negotiations:"

- THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT: "Do not count non-violent drug offenses as strikes. Including drug offenses as strikes will overcrowd the prisons, which will cause violent criminals with one or two strikes to be let out early ."

- SAFETY VALVE: "Support the House version of the mandatory minimum 'safety valve,' and make it retroactive. Non-violent drug offenders with little or no criminal history should not be serving 5- or 10-year mandatory minimum sentences."

(DRCNet insert:

- According to FAMM this safety valve would get about 1600 people out of prison who are there now, if retroactive. Rep. Gerald Solomon of New York tried to prevent this amendment from even coming to the House floor, but evidently backed down after his offices were inundated with phone calls about it, most of them from FAMM members and maybe a few DRCNet subscribers too.

- There are two other provisions of the House Crime Bill that FAMM has asked their members to oppose. It is going a little far afield for drug reform, but still worthwhile. They are: A) removing weight training equipment from gyms; and B) eliminating Pell grants for inmates. These provisions are shortsighted, as college study keeps people from returning to crime, and exercise helps inmates get out their frustration in a positive way. In the long run, eliminating these options for inmates will cost us money and lives. It's not exactly drug law reform, but mention it in your communications if you're so inclined.)

- Put in a pitch for H.R. 3100, the bill for a Federal Commission on Drug Policy. It's not officially slated to be part of the Crime Bill, but who knows? A commission like this will be our big chance to humiliate the drug warriors. Tell the Congressmen and Senators on the conference committee, and your own Reps and Senators that you whether or not it's part of the Crime Bill, you want the commission called for in the "Hoover" Resolution and written up in H.R. 3100.

End of DRCNet insert)

2. Get all of your friends to do the same!

3. Copy and submit the following as a letter-to-the-editor to your local newspapers:

Ranking members of both houses of Congress are currently engaged in informal discussions to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of the crime bill. It is important that taxpayers understand a few of the more important issues that this conference committee is discussing.

Congress intends to spend more than $22 billion on a crime bill package. This money, which is the expected savings from implementing Vice President Al Gore's plan to reduce the size of government, had been intended to reduce the national deficit. Instead, Congress is ostensibly spending this savings to reduce crime.

Yet there is an ultra-expensive provision in both versions of the crime bill that will not reduce crime at all. In fact, it will probably be responsible for increasing crime. It is the infamous "three strikes and you'r e out" proposal.

Criminals who are convicted of three serious violent crimes--or three "serious" drug crimes--will receive mandatory life prison sentences if the third conviction is on the federal level.

I am in favor of locking up repeat violent offenders for life, but it is counterproductive to lump non-violent drug consumers in with murderers and rapists. Why? An offense no more violent than growing 1,000 cannabis plants (including seedlings) triggers these life imprisonment provisions. Yet someone who is twice convicted of rape or armed robbery will be freed from jail early to make room.

If Congress wants to be "tough" on violent crime, it should exclude non-violent drug offenses from counting as strikes.

One provision in the crime bill that makes room for violent offenders is the "safety valve" for mandatory minimum sentences. Current federal law dictates that individuals convicted of growing 100 marijuana plants (or seedlings) must receive a 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Meanwhile, those convicted of rape often receive 3-year sentences without a mandatory minimum.

Happily, the House crime bill contains a "safety valve" provision, whereby federal judges can drop mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, first-tim e, low-level drug offenders. The conference committee should support the "safety valve" and make it retroactive to apply to non-violent offenders who are now occupying prison cells that could otherwise be holding violent criminals.

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