Thursday, January 16, 2014

Parsimony and Pot

Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana use, and a number of other jurisdictions looking to do the same.  The Department of Justice has backed off prosecution of even large-scale marijuana distributors in states where weed is legal.  So why are federal marijuana prosecutions still more frequent (27.6% of federal drug cases) than methamphetamine prosecutions (19.5%)?

While federal prosecutions may still be frequent, the sentences imposed in those cases may be going down.  In a recent decision, United States District Judge James K. Bredar, decided that the "evolving landscape of state law and federal enforcement policy regarding marijuana is particularly relevant" when fashioning sentences by federal marijuana offenses.  Judge Bredar found that a two-level downward variance, which reduced the defendants' sentences by 20-25%, was justified by our nation's evolving tolerance of marijuana.  The judge found the legal and political developments relevant in two ways.  First, the court found that the,

"seriousness of violations of federal marijuana laws has been undercut by (1) recent state enactments decriminalizing, legalizing, and regulating not only the possession of marijuana but also its cultivation, distribution, and sale, and (2) the federal government’s expanding policy of non-enforcement. Indeed, these state enactments reflect the desire of several states to “try something new” in marijuana policy by adopting an approach focused on regulation instead of prohibition. "

Second, Judge Bredar ruled that the marijuana guideline would create unwarranted disparity.  Because the charged marijuana conspiracy "s bears some similarity to those marijuana distribution operations in Colorado and Washington that will not be subject to federal prosecution. The Court therefore finds it should use its sentencing discretion to dampen the disparate effects of prosecutorial priorities."

As we reconsider drug sentences on a national level, this is an opinion to remember.

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