Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang promises in his platform to “decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of opioids,” citing similar policy in Portugal to address their own addiction crisis. However, in his April 14 CNN Town Hall, moderator Ana Cabrera pushed Yang about the specifics of his drug decriminalization policy; would he decriminalize drugs like cocaine as well?
By TJ Robers | United States
Last night, the United States Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that President Trump has pledged to sign. The bill makes massive strides in improving America’s justice system, but we must not get carried away. While every reform in this bill ultimately makes America’s justice system better, the First Step Act must not be the end. It must be the beginning because criminal justice in America still has a plethora of flaws that we must address if we are to be truly free.
What the First Step Act Does
“Criminal Justice Reform” is a god-term, meaning it invokes an immediate, positive, and powerful response from a listener. Fortunately, the First Step Act does not fall into the trap that laws like the PATRIOT Act fell into, in which a law destroys freedom despite the connotation that the name has. This bill actually takes steps in the right direction.
The First Step Act Reduces Crack Sentences
Crack and Cocaine are ultimately the same things. Despite this, crack carries a much more severe sentence. This has had a devastating effect on minority communities since the 1980s. The First Step Act takes measures to make crack and cocaine equal in terms of sentencing by lowering the sentences one would receive for possession of crack.
The First Step Act Reduces Mandatory Minimums
Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill included a three strikes rule in which someone convicted of their third felony will receive an automatic life sentence. The First Step Act converts this to a 25-year sentence. In addition, federal judges will have a “safety valve” that will allow them to subvert mandatory minimums. This will help 2000 people avoid mandatory minimums.
The First Step Act is Not Enough
It is a good thing that crack sentences are being reduced and that nonviolent offenders are avoiding mandatory minimums. What is a bad thing, however, is that any nonviolent individual is behind bars. Right now, America makes up 5% of the world’s population but holds 25% of the world’s prison population. Many of these inmates are nonviolent offenders who did nothing more but sell or smoke a plant the government does not like.
This is not to be critical of the First Step Act; it is a step in the right direction. But that is all it is. Let us not pretend that the justice system has been fixed in the United States because it hasn’t been. We ought to be thankful that this legislation is making progress. We must, however, ensure that a chilling effect does not set in, because the people who have been victimized by America’s criminal justice system need far more than this bill offers.
You own yourself. You should not be in prison for using a drug. The only person you are harming by doing so is yourself. That should be your choice, and I do not have the right to forcefully stop you from making that choice.
Perhaps a more sweeping fix would be to declare the drug war as what it is: a trillion dollar failure that has devastated the lives of millions, especially in our poor and minority communities. Every individual who is incarcerated but never created a victim should be free. Mandatory minimums should be eliminated. Crime is an individual phenomenon. Sentencing should be treated as such.
In other words, The First Step Act is a first step that will help a lot of people, but it is not enough. To truly have a free society, we must push for freedom for all people; this means fighting the prison industrial complex.
This article was originally published in LIFE.
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By Indri Schaelicke | United States
Since the passage of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, the War on Drugs has destroyed countless lives. This campaign often oversteps constitutional restrictions to searches and seizures without warrants or probable cause. Worse than this, however, is the pain it inflicts upon families. For mere use of an illicit substance, the state takes people away from their loved ones.
By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial
Ross Ulbricht has recently joined Twitter. Social Media users everywhere are now able to hear words right out of the Dread Pirate Roberts’s mouth. It is a wonderful but saddening thing. He can still spread encouragement in all of our agoristic activities, yet his continued imprisonment is a constant reminder of how broken our justice system is. Ross Ulbricht is a pioneering figure, showing what can be done with technology to resist the power of the state by running an online drug market.
By Nick Hamilton | California
If you haven’t already heard, California legalized the use of marijuana at the beginning of the year.
The case and verdict have been reported time and time again. Something less reported, however, may prove equally important. Recently in San Francisco, District Attorney George Gascon announced that nearly 5,000 marijuana-related felony convictions will be reviewed, and the convicts will be re-sentenced.
The best part? The state will likely fully dismiss over 3,000 misdemeanor convictions.
Proposition 64, which legalized the drug in the State of California, states that people can possess six plants and one ounce of the substance. In San Francisco, this proposition had a 75% citizen approval rate. This was the highest of any county in California, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Let’s analyze this for a second: San Francisco is reviewing 8,000 cases of marijuana-related crimes. Also, they will likely throw out around 3,000 of them. In fact, it took 23 petitions to the city of San Francisco to act on this measure. Thus, each petition written will ultimately lead to the clearing of over 100 records.
Attorney Gascon spoke out towards the Department of Justice recently in regards to marijuana classification. They recently announced a desire to schedule marijuana as a class I narcotic, equal to heroin and above cocaine. (Quote from NPR)
“Every high school kid knows that that is B.S., right? But we continue to insist almost like marijuana is almost an existential threat. It’s hypocritical. It doesn’t really follow the reality of our country and it takes from the credibility of the entire criminal justice system.”
San Francisco dismissing these convictions basically says one thing to the Department of Justice. Essentially, it reaffirms the belief that federal prohibition on marijuana is an awful thing for this country. Thus, in order to further the principles of freedom, it’s about time to stop being so harsh on it.
(Image from capoliticalreview.com)