The MPP is currently working on three projects:
* Senate crime bill: The MPP is opposing this bill because it would encourage further abuses of suspected and actual marijuana consumers, as well as increase the penalties for certain nonviolent marijuana crimes.
* AIDS/marijuana research: The Clinton administration is considering allowing the first medicinal marijuana research project in more than a decade to begin. The MPP is lobbying members of Congress to pressure the Clinton administration to allow this research--which has already been approved by the FDA--to go forward.
* Reduce Certain Cultivation Penalties: On March 14, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is holding a hearing to consider reducing the penalties for people who are federally convicted of cultivating between 50 and 99 marijuana plants. The MPP, in conjunction with FAMM, is preparing testimony and inviting witnesses for this important hearing.
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LEGISLATIVE ALERT ON THE SENATE CRIME BILL:
FROM: Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)
DATE: February 17, 1995
RE: Please help fight S. 3, the U.S. Senate crime bill
This is a three-part legislative alert:
1. BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW
2. SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS OF S. 3
3. WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP FIGHT S. 3
If you are pressed for time, please jump to part three to see what you can do to help!
* * *
BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW
On February 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 666, the exclusionary rule "reform" bill, by a vote of 289 to 142. This bill, which would allow evidence obtained from illegal police searches to be admissible in court, was opposed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and dozens of other organizations.
Between February 7-14, the House also passed five other crime-related bills that are not of direct concern to the Marijuana Policy Project. (H.R. 666 and these five bills were derived from H.R. 3., the "Taking Back Our Streets Act of 1995.")
S. 3, the U.S. Senate's version of the crime bill, contains eight provisions that the Marijuana Policy Project opposes. U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R--Utah), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has stated that he will not divide S. 3, the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Improvement Act of 1995," into separate bills because he doesn't want to give the Democrats more than one opportunity to filibuster the crime bill on the Senate floor.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin addressing S. 3 when they hold a hearing on exclusionary rule "reform" and other provisions on approximately February 27. The Senate Judiciary Committee mark-up (bill modification process) is scheduled to occur in mid-March.
If the Senate Judiciary Committee votes S. 3 out of committee, then the following must happen before a new crime bill becomes law:
* Senate passes S. 3;
* Senate/House conference committee, comprised of approximately 20 leaders from the Senate and House, reconciles the differences between the Senate- and House-passed bills;
* House passes reconciled bill;
* Senate passes reconciled bill;
* President Clinton signs reconciled bill into law.
This will give the MPP and other organizations several opportunities to defeat the harmful provisions in the bills--or possibly the entire bills themselves.
The best chance to influence the Senate action on the bill is now, before the Senate Judiciary Committee passes it out of committee. The chances of success are dependent on the ability of the grassroots-and especially the Internet community-to voice its strong opposition.
SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS OF S. 3
The Senate's version of the new federal crime bill--S. 3, the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1995"--would repeal many crime prevention programs from the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, limit the ability for prisoners to appeal their sentences in federal courts, expand the use of the death penalty, limit prisoner lawsuits, and so on.
The Marijuana Policy Project is concerned exclusively with the potentially damaging marijuana-related provisions. Though marijuana is specifically mentioned only a few times in S. 3, several provisions would affect large numbers of actual and suspected marijuana consumers.
The Marijuana Policy Project opposes S. 3. Specifically, the Marijuana Policy Project opposes the following eight provisions of S. 3, in decreasing order of importance:
1. Destruction of the "exclusionary rule":
The exclusionary rule bars any evidence obtained via an illegal search from being admissible in a criminal trial. Consequently, law enforcement officers presently have incentive to follow the rules--establishing probable cause, obtaining and following a valid search warrant, and so on.
The exclusionary rule is what gives strength to the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures..."
The so-called "reform" of the exclusionary rule, recently passed in the US House of Representatives, would completely circumvent the intent of the Fourth Amendment.
The Senate's provision would essentially abolish the exclusionary rule, specifically stating that evidence "shall not be excluded in a proceeding in a court of the United States on the ground that the search or seizure was in violation of the fourth amendment to the Constitution."
The MPP opposes this section. In an attempt at damage control, the MPP is exploring the possibility of having a U.S. senator introduce an amendment that would provide an exception for the DEA. If this proposed amendment were introduced and adopted, the DEA would still be required to get search warrants.
2. Destruction of the "safety valve":
This provision would repeal the mandatory minimum "safety valve" provision that was in the 1994 crime act, replacing it with a provision that would severely limit the number of individuals who may avoid a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
The already stringent qualifications would be even more restrictive. For example, in addition to the strict criteria for establishing that the offender was nonviolent and was not a leader, organizer, or manager of an illicit drug operation, the following changes would be made:
* The 1994 safety valve allowed the defendant to have one criminal history point (CHP) on his or her record. S. 3 would require zero CHPs, meaning no prior convictions that would have resulted in a prison sentence, even as a juvenile.
* The defendant must prove that he or she "did not own the drugs, finance any part of the offense or sell the drugs."
These changes would mean lengthy, inflexible prison sentences for many more nonviolent drug offenders--including marijuana cultivators. Moreover, this provision would create the facade that mandatory minimum sentences can be avoided if the offender is truly not a threat to society. Not true.
The MPP opposes this section.
3. Mandatory minimum sentences for three crimes "involving" minors:
The MPP agrees that adults should not sell drugs--including marijuana--to minors, nor should adults employ minors in illicit drug operations. Although this provision makes some elements of the already-existing federal laws more reasonable, it greatly enhances the penalties for such crimes to excessively harsh, counterproductive levels.
* "Employment" of persons under 18 years of age:
This section would further increase already-enhanced penalties for individuals over 21 years of age who involve minors in "drug trafficking" crimes.
In present law, the penalty enhancements include a doubling of the applicable maximum penalties for the first offense and a tripling of the maximum penalties for the second. A 1-year minimum prison sentence is also mandated for a first or second offense.
S. 3 would establish a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for persons over age 21 who are convicted of a first offense of involving an individual under age 18 in an illicit drug transaction. A second offense would net a mandatory life sentence. Maximum penalties would still be doubled and tripled, accordingly.
The MPP believes that judges should have the discretion to determine the appropriate sentence. Perhaps some individuals should serve at least 10 years, e.g., a 45-year-old distributor employing a network of dozens of 14- year-olds to sell crack to 12-year-olds.
However, if a 21-year-old gives his 17-year-old brother an ounce of marijuana to sell to his 25-year-old friend, the judge should be able to assign a more appropriate sentence.
It should be noted that "employing" an individual under age 18 includes receiving or buying controlled substances from a minor. Imagine a 21-year- old serving a 10-year sentence for buying a joint from a 17-year-old!
The MPP opposes this provision.
* Distributing drugs to minors:
S. 3 would further enhance penalties for distributing illicit drugs to minors. In present law, the penalty enhancements include a doubling of the applicable maximum penalties for the first offense and a tripling of the maximum penalties for the second. A 1-year minimum prison sentence is also mandated for a first or second offense.
The proposed new penalty enhancements would be unreasonably excessive. S. 3 would establish a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for the first offense and a mandatory life sentence for the second. Maximum penalties would still be doubled and tripled, accordingly.
The MPP opposes these penalty enhancements, primarily because they are overly broad. Few people would think it is a good idea to send a 21-year- old to prison for a minimum of 10 years for selling one or two joints to a 17-year-old.
* Drug offenses within "drug-free" school zones:
This section would worsen the already-existing absurd notion of enhanced penalties for "distributing" or "manufacturing" illicit drugs within 1,000 feet of any school, university, or playground, or within 100 feet of a youth center, public pool, or video arcade. Presently, maximum penalties are doubled for a first offense and tripled for a second offense, plus a 1- year mandatory minimum prison sentence is required for a first offense, and a 3-year mandatory minimum is required for the second.
This is ridiculous. Most areas in a city fall within "drug-free zones." Why should an adult who lives three blocks away from the edge of a university be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence because he or she sold an ounce of marijuana to another adult-or even grew one marijuana plant in his or her basement for personal use?
S. 3 would increase the mandatory minimum prison sentence to 5 years for the first offense and 10 years for the second.
The MPP opposes this section.
4. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses "involving" guns:
Individuals who use guns to commit crimes against other people certainly should be punished--this is sufficiently addressed in present laws. However, the gun provisions in S. 3 would make existing "guns-and-drugs" laws--already overly broad and punitive--even worse.
These federal laws now provide lengthy mandatory minimum sentences (5 years for the first offense, 20 years for the second) for possessing a gun "during and in relation to" any "drug trafficking crime," which includes growing one marijuana plant or selling a joint at-cost to a friend. These penalties are in addition to the penalties for the drug-crime itself.
S. 3 would increase the penalty for using or carrying a firearm during a "drug trafficking crime" to a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.
The MPP opposes this section. Nonviolent, responsible marijuana consumers who own hunting rifles or hand guns for sport or protection should not be treated like violent, gun-brandishing criminals. Prison space should be reserved for truly dangerous criminals--not home-growers.
5. Elimination of treatment and prevention programs:
This section would repeal many important crime prevention and drug treatment programs from the 1994 crime act. The MPP particularly opposes the repeal of the following:
* a program which would provide drug treatment to state prisoners who need it; and
* funding which provides for the establishment of drug courts to help divert nonviolent drug offenders from the penal system.
This section would also repeal the establishment of the National Commission on Crime Control and Prevention which would, in part, evaluate current drug control policies and make recommendations regarding necessary improvements.
The MPP does not take a stance on the repeal of this commission, as it was questionable as to whether the commission would be constituted so as to provide for an honest, reasonable assessment of current drug policies.
6. Increased funding for the DEA:
This section would amend the 1994 crime act to enhance the DEA's budget even more than had been approved last year, "to help meet the increased demands that will result from this Act--
(1) $42,000,000 for fiscal year 1996;
(2) $55,000,000 for fiscal year 1997;
(3) $70,000,000 for fiscal year 1998;
(4) $85,000,000 for fiscal year 1999;
(5) $98,000,000 for fiscal year 2000."
The DEA's budget for 1995 is $756.5 million. The DEA's budget for 1996-- which includes an increase of $12 million authorized by the 1994 crime act- -is $810 million.
The MPP is appalled that the Senate would consider cutting treatment and prevention programs, while simultaneously bolstering the budget of the nation's most destructive, underhanded law enforcement bureaucracy. The MPP opposes this section.
7. Repeal of sentence-reduction for certain prisoners:
A program (passed in the 1994 crime act) which provides incentives for federal prisoners to successfully complete a drug treatment program by reducing the sentences in some cases would be repealed by S. 3. The MPP opposes this repeal.
8. Increased penalty for importing or exporting 50-99 marijuana plants:
S. 3 would bring the penalties for importing and exporting marijuana in line with those for domestic cultivation and trafficking. This change would effectively increase the maximum penalties applicable to a person who imports or exports between 50 and 99 marijuana plants.
Although it is unlikely that there are many arrests for importing or exporting between 50 and 99 marijuana plants, the MPP opposes this change nevertheless.
* * *
The MPP supports one provision of S. 3:
Repeal of president's ability to declare "drug emergency areas":
This section would repeal a section of the 1994 crime act which allows the president to declare a state or part of a state to be a "drug emergency area," directing any federal agency to the area for the duration of the "emergency."
The MPP supports the repeal of this law.
WHAT-YOU-CAN-DO TO HELP FIGHT S. 3
There are four things you can do to help fight S. 3. Please help! (If you don't know the name of your U.S. representative or two U.S. senators, call the Congressional switchboard operator at 202-224-3121.)
1. Write a letter to each of your two U.S. senators and ask each of
them to vote against S. 3 because you oppose the following four sections
* oppose TITLE IV, SECTION 406: narrowing of "safety valve"
* oppose TITLE IV, SECTION 405: increased mandatory minimums for drug offenses "involving" minors
* oppose TITLE IV, SECTION 407: increased mandatory minimums for "guns and drugs" crimes
Ask each of them to filibuster on the Senate floor if the Senate Judiciary Committee approves S. 3.
2. Call your U.S. representative's office and ask if he or she voted for H.R. 666.
If your U.S. representative voted against H.R. 666, the exclusionary rule "reform" bill, please write a letter thanking him or her.
If your U.S. representative voted for H.R. 666, please tell him or her that you disagree with that vote, and encourage him or her to vote against the crime bill if and when it is ultimately released from the Senate/House conference committee.
3. Write a letter-to-the-editor that resembles (or mimics) the following:
"S. 3, the new crime bill that the U.S. Senate is considering, is a crime. I urge Senators ________ and _________ to oppose it.
"S. 3, which is full of provisions that would either abolish civil liberties or impose cruel-and-unusual punishments on nonviolent drug offenders, will in fact do nothing to fight violent crime.
"Some of the worst provisions in S. 3 include:
1. Exclusionary rule "reform," recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, would allow evidence obtained from illegal police searches to be admissible in court.
2. The "safety valve"--which allows first-time, nonviolent, low-level drug offenders to escape harsh mandatory minimum sentences--would essentially be abolished. (The "safety valve" was part of the 1994 crime act.)
3. Mandatory minimum penalties--already overly harsh and arbitrary--would be further increased so that individuals who grow one marijuana plant within 1,000 feet of a university would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison.
4. The existing "guns and drugs" laws--already overly broad--would be made worse. Selling a joint to a friend or growing one marijuana plant while possessing a legally registered gun would net a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.
"As usual, Congress has overdone it with their so-called crime legislation. I urge all readers to vocally express their opposition to S. 3."
4. Please join the Marijuana Policy Project:
Marijuana Policy Project
P.O. Box 77492
Washington, DC 20013
(202) 232-0442 (fax)
E-mail: [email protected]
Membership dues are $50 annually or $5 monthly. Members receive the monthly newsletter, "Marijuana Policy Report."
* To receive the full legislative analysis of S. 3, complete with legalese, please join the MPP.
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