50,000 Drug Offenders Eligible for Reduced Sentences

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

In yet another sign that a continued emphasis on treatment and recovery for addicts is replacing punitive consequences, nearly 50,000 currently incarcerated federal drug offenders are now eligible for reduced sentences.

Here are some of the key highlights of this groundbreaking, unanimous ruling made last week by the U.S. Sentencing Commission:

  • Nearly half of the 100,000 inmates currently in prison on drug charges will be able to have their cases reviewed again by a judge.
  • The commission said that those who apply could have their sentences reduced by an average of about two years, although the move won’t go into effect until next year.
  • It appears that there will be little opposition from Congress, since the measure has received bipartisan support. However, they will have until November to void it.
  • The vote made retroactive a previous unanimous ruling by the commission which will lighten punishments for future drug offenders who are sentenced beginning in November of this year.
  • The ruling also falls in line with reforms to non-violent drug crime sentencing across the country. More than 30 states have modified their drug crime penalties since 2009.

“Tens of thousands of prisoners stand to benefit from this very just and very bold decision, and of course tens of thousands of their loved ones,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group. “It was a profound decision and a bold move by the commission, but also absolutely the right thing to do.”

Attorney General Eric Holder on Drug Sentencing

His proposal would have made only 20,000 inmates eligible for reduced sentencing by excluding repeat offenders… charged with violent crimes.
Perhaps surprisingly, the approved plan was more lenient than the one initially proposed last month by Attorney General Eric Holder, a staunch advocate for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes. His proposal would have made only 20,000 inmates eligible for reduced sentencing by excluding repeat offenders and inmates charged with violent crimes.

Holder said in a statement that his proposal “strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.” According to his “Smart on Crime” campaign, the U.S. holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, despite only being responsible for five percent of the world’s population.

What Does this Mean for Marijuana?

The less harsh approach towards non-violent drug crimes also seems to reflect a shift towards a more lenient approach on certain drugs in general. Last April, Holder stated that he was willing to discuss moving marijuana from its current Schedule I drug classification in the federal Controlled Substance Act, which puts it in the same category as heroin and crack cocaine. He said the Obama administration is “more than glad to work with Congress if there is a desire to look at and reexamine how the drug is scheduled.”

Related: How to Avoid ‘Dumb’ Marijuana Legalization

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