Pass a Joint, Go to Prison


For those hoping that Congress might wait and see if the Supreme Court's January ruling regarding federal sentencing guidelines actually unleashes the chaos predicted by critics of soft-on-crime judges, here is cause for concern: Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has rewritten his Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act (known by the catchy acronym DAMV:SADTCPA), which he introduced before the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Booker. Apparently Sensenbrenner decided DAMV:SADTCPA wasn't draconian enough. The bill, which has been passed by a subcommittee and will soon be considered by the full House Judiciary Committee, retains the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone over 21 who supplies any quantity of any drug to someone under 18, with a life sentence for a second such offense. In addition, according to an analysis by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the bill would:

  • make the sentencing guidelines mandatory again, forbidding downward departures in almost all cases;
  • virtually eliminate the "safety valve" provision for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders;
  • create a three-year mandatory minimum for parents who see or hear about drug dealing targeting or near their children and fail to report it;
  • create a 10-year mandatory minimum for parents who sell drugs when their children are nearby; and
  • increase the mandatory minimum for selling drugs in "drug-free zones," which in practice cover almost anywhere within many cities, to five years.

In a press release that's not online yet, the Marijuana Policy Project cites another attention-grabbing provision of the bill: "Anyone convicted in federal court of the crime of 'enticing' someone 'who has previously been enrolled in a drug treatment program' to 'possess' marijuana will receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. That's right: Passing a joint to someone who used to be in drug treatment will land you in federal prison for a minimum of five years."