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November 10, 2007

Does reefer no longer inspire madness?

Time magazine has this interesting new article entitled "Mellowing Out on Marijuana."  Here is how it starts:

Those Rocky Mountains are getting higher. Two municipalities — Denver, Colorado, and the small town of Hailey, Idaho — passed pro-marijuana measures on election day this week, joining a growing number of liberal localities that are reducing or removing penalities on using pot. It's part of a slowly evolving populist rehabilitation of the drug. San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica in California, along with Missoula, Montana, and Seattle, Washington, have previously passed laws that give the lowest priority to enforcing existing marijuana laws.

Federal regulations, which supercede local ordinances, continue to prescribe heavy penalties — even in some cases death — for major dealers of illegal drugs, including marijuana.  The federal penalty for possession of even a miniscule amount is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and $1,000. Penalties are higher with cultivation, sale and crossing state lines.  However, magistrates generally use state and local laws as sentencing guidelines — unless there is federal intervention, which doesn't occur in every drug case because they would increase court time and costs.

November 10, 2007 at 10:46 AM | Permalink


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"Federal regulations, which supercede local ordinances, continue to prescribe heavy penalties — even in some cases death — for major dealers of illegal drugs, including marijuan"

This sentence makes no sense. Or maybe it is just inaccurate.

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 10, 2007 11:40:38 AM


Trafficking marijuana is a death eligible offense in very, very large quantities. See, 18 U.S.C. 3591(b) (http://www.capdefnet.org/fdprc/contents/overview_fed_death_pen/18_usc_3591.htm)

Posted by: karl | Nov 10, 2007 12:11:46 PM

Not quite sentencing reform (except to the extent that most time for small pot offenses is done pre-trial), but Texas' Governor signed into law this year a new statute giving police discretion to issue citations for low-level marijuana and certain other nonviolent misdemeanors instead of making arrests. See e.g.:


Several smaller county sheriffs and PDs have already begun using the new procedure, and a couple of larger ones are ironing out procedural kinks and may start as soon as the next few months giving tickets instead of arresting people (at the officers' discretion) for marijuana offenses. It was done to reduce jail overcrowding and to free up room for more serious offenders.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 10, 2007 1:51:40 PM

Grits: Smaller counties are more likely to make a "federal case" out of Class B Marijuana case, not the other way around! I've had longer MJ possession cases in podunk towns than I've had felony trials in Houston. What are you smokin'?

Posted by: dweedle | Nov 13, 2007 9:12:19 AM

Karl, The problem with the statement was that it referred to regulations as setting the sentences. (Statutes do, and the guidelines are not regulations, though the schedules are regulations.) Also, it claimed that federal "regulations" "supersede" local ordinances, in fact they bother operate independently.

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 14, 2007 6:33:38 AM

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