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Marijuana: Federal Prison is Out For Minor Pot Crimes

Marijuana: Federal Prison is Out For Minor Pot Crimes
Nanette Gonzalez for LA Weekly

The United States has five percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the people behind bars.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today blamed the nation's draconian drug sentencing laws and guidelines on this $80 billion-a-year problem as he announced that small-time drug offenses would no longer be subject to "mandatory minimum" sentences. The medical marijuana nation was elated:

Holder announced the new policy at a speech before the American Bar Association today.

He said that prosecutors in his Department of Justice would no longer seek the harshest possible charges in "low-level" narcotics cases, charges that can trigger those long minimum sentences and clog our prisons with otherwise nonviolent offenders.

Holder:

... Certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.

The human cost was too great, and many more black men than white are sentenced to the longest prison time, he said.

Holder also said that more suspects would be referred to state courts for diversion programs and rehabilitation.

Marijuana: Federal Prison is Out For Minor Pot Crimes
Katheirne Hitt / Flickr

He added that even those currently behind bars could benefit from the policy change: "Compassionate release" will be considered for some with extraordinary cases, Holder said.

Already, the group Americans for Safe Access has some candidates for the DOJ's consideration:

There are currently more than two-dozen federal medical marijuana patients and providers who are serving sentences for violating federal marijuana laws, despite being in compliance with the laws of their respective states.

Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA, says in a statement sent to the Weekly and other outlets:

We look forward to Attorney General Holder bringing about the compassionate release of Mr. Duval and reconsideration of all the other nonviolent federal medical marijuana prisoners.

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