Weight Check

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Speaking of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, critics of draconian drug penalties won a victory last week in Michigan, where the legislature approved three sentencing reform bills. FAMM reports that "the reform allows judges to impose sentences based on a range of factors in each case, rather than solely drug weight, and replaces lifetime probation for the lowest-level offenders with a five-year probationary period. It also permits parole for some prisoners."

The fixation on drug weight, which was supposed to eliminate subjectivity and make sentences more consistent, has led to onerous sentences for minor figures in drug operations. The definition of weight, which generally includes anything the drug is mixed with, also has led to some bizarre results, most notoriously in the case of LSD on blotter paper.

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  1. When penalties are based on the harm done by a crime, you don’t have so much controversy about how to gauge the correct relative punishment. But because drug offenses are based on hazy notions of protecting people against themselves or protecting against the indirect effects to third parties that might (or might not) happen once in a while, there is no rational basis for sentencing.

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