First the Soviet Union collapsed, then marijuana penalties loosened, and now Maryland eliminates mandatory minimum prison for non-violent drug offenses

Fairfax drug defense/criminal defense attorney on the need to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentencing

Jun 03, 2016 First the Soviet Union collapsed, then marijuana penalties loosened, and now Maryland eliminates mandatory minimum prison for non-violent drug offenses

Right through college, I never though I would witness the collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse was complete in 1991 two years after I finished law school.

In the early nineties, I urged Bob Dole in a hotel lobby and Bernie Sanders at an early 1990’s fundraiser to join the marijuana legalization movement, not expecting that two decades later marijuana legalization for medicinal use, decriminalization, and even legalization would take states by storm, and that Sanders would finally shift towards marijuana legalization.

When I became a Maryland public defender lawyer in 1991 (through 1996), I fully opposed the draconian second strike drug distribution/distribution intention mandatory minimum sentencing laws that the state went along with in the nation’s drug war frenzy. This year, with an extraordinary coalescing of politicians from across the party spectrum, Maryland will no longer have mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses, although with the compromise of increased available penalties for such offenses as second degree murder. (While I am still waiting for the state’s website to no longer be down for me to review the legislation itself, I am relying on news reports on the matter.) All at once, success has come from the drug reform advocates from the social justice end protesting the huge racial disparities catching hugely disproportionate numbers of African Americans in drug mandatory minimum sentencing than anyone else, from religious leaders bemoaning the harshness of mandatory minimum drug sentencing, and from economic conservatives warning of the huge financial cost of the drug war. Take that, Nancy Reagan. 

The Washington Post reports that advocates for eliminating drug mandatory minimum sentencing in Maryland now have their sights on reforming the bail system that keeps too many presumed-innocent people locked up pending their trials, whether because of indigency, excessive bonds or no-bond status.

How exhilarating that even the darkest seeming parts of life can be reversed. All states and the federal government need to follow Maryland’s lead in eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentencing.

Deeply thanking and bowing to the many people who have stuck to their guns over the decades to reverse the civil liberties-violative and government budget-draining drug war.

ADDENDUM: The final version of Maryland’s Justice Reinvestment Act is here. The Act is over 200 pages long, and the provision eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for drugs includes page 53.

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