Reefer Roundup 12/23/10

News from the frontline of the drug war

More changes to crack sentencing on the way?
More changes to crack sentencing on the way? (by courtesy of Drug Enforcement Administration)

Additional reform to crack sentencing laws on the horizon? Could it be?

Details on this – and so much more! – below.


Former British defense secretary Bob Ainsworth last week said the war on drugs was "nothing short of disaster," and called for a rethinking of drug policy – including the possibility of replacing prohibition with "strict regulation," reports the Guardian.

That message, not surprisingly, was met with "dismay" by his Labor party leadership – including from a party source who told the paper that Ainsworth's message was "extremely irresponsible." Apparently spending money hand-over-fist in an inanely quixotic attempt to rid the planet of drugs is perfectly reasonable.

Although the rote response from drug warriors was vehement, Ainsworth nonetheless has (so far) stuck to his guns: While acting as defense secretary, where he was responsible for the country's actions in Afghanistan, he told the paper, he saw "that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security."

Refreshingly, while the paper details a host of negative comments about Ainsworth's position, he was apparently backed up by a former leader of the Conservative party, Peter Lilley, who called on pols to come to the table and get real: "stop using the issue as a political football," he said.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend holding your breath for this.


Gov. Rick Perry this week issued eight pardons – bringing the total number of pardons under his watch to 178 (out of more than 500 recommended by the Board of Pardons and Paroles) – including one in an old pot-possession case.

According to a Perry press release, the guv granted a full pardon to 61-year-old Lindell Francis Shumake, who was convicted of pot possession in 1971 when he was just 21. His original sentence was four years probation, and Shumake was released from that after 18 months.

In short, it sounds like Shumake got a pretty good deal on this one – perhaps both coming and going.

I have to say that I agree with Scott Henson's take on Perry's pardons in general, and his specific hits on the pot pardon, on his Grits for Breakfast blog. A pardon for a single, minor pot possession case is just maddening when you consider the thousands and thousands of people sentenced since 1971 for similar, if not identical, crimes. Where are their pardons? Nowhere, my friend. Nowhere.


According to the Houston Chronicle, former McAllen cop Francisco Meza-Rojas was sentenced in federal court this week to 27 years in prison for his participation in a drug-dealing conspiracy.

U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno told the Associated Press that Meza-Rojas was the leader of a group that distributed cocaine and marijuana across the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Meza-Rojas reportedly pleaded guilty to the charges in October.

It's been a long time coming for Meza-Rojas who, after he was first arrested on the drug dealing charges, escaped from jail near the border and went on the lam for just more than four years, until he was captured in July and extradited back to Texas.

Wonder if he'll get a pardon…. Nah.


Oklahoma is taking a stand against hemp. Not against growing it, or manufacturing hemp products, or even selling said products. No, the problem is that Oklahoma doesn't want the word "hemp" to appear on a specialty license plate.

That's right, according to TV station KFOR, the state has declined to issue a personalized tag with the word hemp on it for Tom Walker. The problem? Because the word hemp could also refer to marijuana, the state opined, the word "may be offensive to the general public."


Walker says he requested the hemp tag because he supports the reauthorization of industrial hemp farming, not because he gives a crap about pot. Walker is apparently appealing the state's decision (this is the second time they've denied his request for the personal tag). "Anything that questions the government does not get to be placed on a license tag," attorney Chad Moody told the TV station. "It they're going to let certain people have certain political view points expressed on their license tag" – like, how 'bout those "choose life" plates? – "and not let other political viewpoints be expressed, then that's discriminatory," he said.


The Coalition for Cognitive Liberty – a group formed to "protect the rights of businesses in the incense industry" – is asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to explain what evidence it has to suggest that synthetic pot (sold under the brand names K2 and Spice) is dangerous enough to warrant banning the substances.

To recap: The DEA last month announced that it was exercising its emergency authority to place a temporary ban on the sale of the not-pot products – herbal blends containing one or more synthetic compounds that mimic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. (Reefer Roundup's previous report on the DEA's move can be found here.)

Now, the Coalition is crying foul, saying that "reasonable regulation" is preferable to a ban. In part, they say that the U.S. policy of banning drugs and drug-containing products hasn't exactly worked so well thus far – "the action of the DEA will create a dangerous criminal black market" – and they note that there is no way the DEA can say these fake pot compounds don't have any possible medicinal value, considering that the federal government holds a patent for at least one of the known synthetic dope compounds.


And, finally, time for a bit of good news. Last week Virgina Dem U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, also chair of the House Crime Subcommittee, filed the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2010, which would provide federal crack inmates a way to apply to have their sentences retroactively lowered, to bring them in line with the government's new crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing scheme.

President Barack Obama in August signed into law a new sentencing scheme that did away with the much reviled 100-to-1 crack-to-powder sentencing scheme that had been on the books since 1986 and sent thousands to prison for long terms for possession of relatively small amounts of crack cocaine (the law change also did away with the man-min for simple crack possession). The new law hasn't entirely eliminated the sentencing disparity – some lawmakers are still possessed by the notion that crack is somehow different from powder cocaine; it isn't – but has brought sentencing more into line.

The problem with that law change was that it wasn't made retroactive. Pushing for retroactive application was on the to-do list for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, advocates who have been stalwarts in the fight to bring fairness to sentencing – not only for crack cases – and this week the group hailed the filing of Scott's new bill, H.R. 6548. "Congress must make the crack law retroactive. It's a matter of simple fairness," Julie Stewart, FAMM's founder and president said in a press release. "[W]hen Congress acknowledged that crack penalties were flawed, they rightly corrected them going forward and now must provide relief to those already in prison serving stiff sentences for crack violations. It's only right that Congress show them the same compassion, fairness, and justice that the new law provides to those entering the prison system."

Amen to that.

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Drug War, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, FAMM, marijuana, drugs, war on drugs, courts, crime, cops, Rick Perry, Bobby Scott, Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, synthetic pot, Spice, K2, DEA, industrial hemp, Reefer Madness

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