Weed Watch: Senate Mulls Med-Mari Defense
Bill would allow medical use claims in drug cases; mandatory sentencing slagged
On the drug-crime front, Massachusetts Judge Robert Mulligan the state's chief justice for administration and management of its trial courts last week blasted the state's "drug-free zone" law, arguing that it is "discriminatory, and corrodes faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system." The law signed under former Gov. Michael Dukakis imposes a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for defendants convicted of drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school. "The purpose behind school zones is to keep drugs away from schools, and that's a legitimate purpose," Mulligan said. "But school doesn't have to be in session; it can be at night, it can be during the summer. So it doesn't really achieve its goals." Moreover, Mulligan said, the law has disproportionately affected minorities and city residents. In Boston, "unless you're on the tarmac of Logan Airport, you're within 1,000 feet of a school," he said.
Under Texas' similar law, the 1,000-foot drug-free zone includes any property "owned, rented, or leased" by a school including district offices and facilities where children are rarely present. Texas has also designated a drug-free zone within 300 feet of public swimming pools and video arcades. Getting popped with drugs inside the zone means the state can enhance punishment i.e., a state jail felony becomes a third-degree felony; a second-degree felony can be pumped up to first-degree. "I'm not saying that minorities are being targeted, and I'm not saying that the arresting officers are unfair, but I'm saying that the policy itself is not wise," Mulligan said of the Bay State law.
In other disproportionate sentencing news, on Nov. 16 in Salt Lake City, U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell blasted the federal mandatory-minimum sentencing scheme after sentencing 25-year-old Weldon Angelos to 55 years in prison for selling a small amount of marijuana to a police informant while armed. Angelos was packing a pistol in an ankle holster when he sold the dope to an informant, which enhanced his sentence, even though Angelos was not accused of using or threatening to use his weapon. Ironically, earlier that day Cassell handed down a 22-year sentence to a man accused of beating an elderly woman to death with a log. Cassell told Angelos that he was "reluctantly" imposing the 55-year sentence, the Drug Reform Coordination Network reports. "I have no choice," Cassell said, adding that Angelos' attorneys should appeal the ruling and appeal to President Bush for clemency. "Is there a rational basis for giving Mr. Angelos more time than the hijacker, the murderer, the rapist?" the judge asked. Sentencing Angelos to jail until he turns 70, Cassell said, is "unjust, cruel, and even irrational."