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Federal drug policy catching up with states

When an individual is charged with a federal drug crime, one of the important aspects of the sentencing process is mandatory minimums. This refers to federal guidelines that prescribe minimum sentences in connection with specific drug convictions. Mandatory minimum sentences were an effort to remove discretion from federal judges and ensure that drug offenders receive an adequately harsh penalty.

Since the time the mandatory minimums came into use, though, there has been a good deal of easing up in drug policy at the state level. Among the efforts has been: decreasing penalties for possessing illegal drugs, particularly marijuana; cutting out automatic sentence enhancements; and expanding the use of diversion programs, which are geared to keeping offenders out of prison. Various factors have driven this shift, including overcrowding of prisons and the costs of housing inmates, which has been made worse by tight state budgets

The federal government, by contrast, has only recently caught on to the trend. With the states of Colorado and Washington having recently legalized the use of recreational marijuana, federal prosecutors have had to rethink their approach.  Attorney General Eric Holder recently announcing that sentences for low-level drug offenders should be reduced in federal cases. That statement comes after Holder announced that low-level drug offenders would not be blindly charged with offenses coming with mandatory minimum sentences.

All of this is to say that change is afoot with respect to federal drug policy. Those who are charged with low-level federal drug crimes, though, still need to take charges seriously. In any case, it is important to build a solid criminal defense and to take advantage of available protections. This is why working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is so important.

Source: Pewresearch.org, “Feds may be rethinking the drug war, but states have been leading the way,” Drew Desilver, April 2, 2014. 

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