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America's Racist Drug Laws

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America's Racist Drug Laws - by Stephen Lendman

They're part of America's longstanding racist tradition.

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Sentencing Project Executive Director Marc Mauer 's a leading expert on sentencing, race, and criminal justice. 

For 25 years, it's "work(ed) for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration."

Criminal injustice is pervasive, especially against people of color. Racial and ethnic minorities comprise over 60% of America's prison population. "For black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day."

America's racist war on drugs disproportionately targets people of color and ethnic minorities. They comprise 75% of those in prison on drug related charges.

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On March 17, 2011, Mauer testified before the US Sentencing Commission regarding proposed federal drug offense sentencing guideline amendments to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.

He said in 2009, drug offenses accounted for over half (51%) of the federal prison population. Those imprisoned represent a 20-fold increase since 1980. Their numbers exceed those incarcerated in 1980 for all offenses. They're the most significant source of America's 700% federal prison growth.

In recent years, state incarcerations stabilized. Federal ones keep rising. Drug related offenses are most responsible. Racial and ethnic minorities are grievously harmed. Reform is urgently needed.

Mandatory minimum sentences exacerbate the problem. So do other racist policies, including judicial unfairness, three strikes and you're out, get tough on crime policies, and a guilty unless proved innocent mentality.

New York's 1973 Rockefeller drug laws are most pernicious. Anyone convicted of selling two ounces or more of heroin, morphine, "raw or prepared opium," cocaine, or cannabis, or possessing four ounces of the same substances receive mandatory 15-year minimum sentences up a maximum of 25 years to life. 

In 1979, marijuana possession penalties were reduced from crimes to misdemeanors. However, aggressive pursuit of offenders continues, especially in New York City. More on that below.

Nationwide crack cocaine (vs. powder) and marijuana possession penalties are also pernicious. Until revised under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, first time offenders convicted of possessing as little as five grams of crack (one ounce = 28 grams) automatically got five years in prison.

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The new law reduces, but doesn't eliminate, the disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Henceforth, possessing 28 or more grams of crack subjects offenders to penalties up to five years. Mandatory simple possession sentencing ended. In addition, courts may reduce prior sentencing disparities.

Nonetheless, pot busts define America's drug war. In 2006, Mauer said primary focus since 1990 shifted to marijuana offenses. As a result, they comprised 82% of the increase in drug arrests. Virtually all of them were for possessing small amounts. Enforcement costs are enormous - $4 billion or more annually for marijuana alone.

Under the 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is a Schedule I drug, meaning it's defined as having high potential for abuse. So far, redefinition attempts failed. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana use in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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