In April, the penalties were lowered for federal judges when sentencing defendants for possessing small amounts of drugs.
Now, a proposal has been adopted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to free tens of thousands of federal drug inmates in line with the new guidelines. We support this action as well.
Why should a person remain behind bars on petty drug possession charges if he or she would receive a much lighter sentence today? Years ago, the cry was to lock up those harmless drug offenders for possessing a trivial amount of marijuana, which is now being sold legally in some states.
We encourage state courts to also lower guidelines and open the prison gates for those serving lengthy sentences for small-time drug charges.
The Sentencing Commission said more than 46,000 inmates could benefit, with an average sentence reduction of 25 months. The change would cover defendants sentenced for all types of drugs.
The commission is an independent panel that sets federal sentencing policy.
Not only is it costly to house these prisoners, but it also keeps many of them from finding future employment and again costing the taxpayers more dollars to support them.
Petersburg (Va.) Police Chief John Dixon III, who recently spoke in Grand Rapids to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Conference, said he is convinced marijuana laws are an utter failure. The chief said drug use and addiction should be addressed by public health officials, not police.
Dixon said such laws have helped put a disproportionate number of blacks in prison, or left them with criminal records that hurt their chances at education, jobs and housing.
“As law-enforcement professionals, we need to really take a look at how we can decriminalize marijuana, especially user amounts,” Dixon said. “We are locking people up for a dime bag, for a joint. They’re put in the criminal justice system, which pretty much ruins the rest of their lives.”
It’s time for a change.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty, Fred VandenBrand and Mark Brooky. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.