The US Sentencing Commission (USSC) is considering potential new sentencing guidelines for cannabis offenses, and they want your opinions. The commission is seeking to update sentencing guidelines to reflect changes in state and federal laws related to marijuana.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Currently, federal judges are instructed to consider prior cannabis convictions as aggravating factors in sentencing—even those made at the state level. However, as more and more states move towards legalization, the USSC wants to update its guidelines to align with this trend. These new guidelines will require judges to exercise sentencing discretion when faced with a prior conviction of simple cannabis possession.
The Effects Of Patchwork Cannabis Laws
This doesn’t come from the kindness of their hearts, though. Nor is it fully inspired by Joe Biden’s cannabis pardon. No, these updates are being proposed in the wake of some seriously severe cannabis sentencing trends in the United States.
A recently released report highlighted the long-term consequences of cannabis convictions in federal sentencing trends, despite more states legalizing cannabis. It’s no wonder that the patchwork of different state and local laws across the country is creating serious challenges for the criminal justice system. That’s why the USSC proposes making significant changes to sentencing guidelines around cannabis offense sentences. But they need to hear your thoughts first!
Public Comments Welcome
The USSC is looking for public opinion on the legal language used in the guideline. The proposed language is:
“Downward Departures.— (A) Examples.—A downward departure from the defendant’s criminal history category may be warranted based on any of the following circumstances:
(ii) The defendant received criminal history points from a sentence for possession of marihuana for personal use, without an intent to sell or distribute it to another person.”
Since they’re interested in public opinion on the language, we’ve got a couple of thoughts to get off our chest. First, referring to cannabis as “marihuana” is offensive, outdated, and misspelled. It’s peculiar that so many laws in the USA stringently refer to cannabis as “marihuana.” There’s probably some bureaucratic BS that keeps them from using the word “cannabis,” but let’s be honest, using a synonym is not that difficult, and it probably would not be that expensive to change it.
Removing the term “marihuana” would be a good step forward in the fight to destigmatize cannabis use and move away from the blatant racism underlining the War on Drugs. Language is foundational to perception; unfortunately, “marihuana” carries with it a very “reefer madness” energy that isn’t conducive to the cause.
We also think it might be a good idea to account for those who were charged but not convicted of cannabis possession. Obviously, if they weren’t convicted, fined, or arrested, there were no legal consequences, but until the stigma against cannabis use is gone, judges should still be reminded to check their biases and apply the sentencing guidelines equally across the board.
If you have more thoughts on the language used, you have until March 14th to submit your opinions to the USSC. They specifically want to hear whether or not you think additional guidance for downward departure should be given.
They’re also interested in hearing alternative approaches to sentencing guidelines for cannabis convictions, which we think is a great idea. An example they provided was excluding cannabis convictions from the criminal history point system altogether (awesome), or should they limit it to those whose convictions occurred in jurisdictions where cannabis is currently legal (less awesome)?
You can submit your thoughts here: https://www.ussc.gov/policymaking/public-comment/public-comment-submission-portal
Overall, we’re excited to see changes being made to cannabis sentencing. We hope to see the USSC take this issue seriously and implement lasting reforms that will spare future generations from the same mistakes of the past.
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