New York State Decriminalizes Recreational Marijuana Use
New York state this week decriminalized recreational marijuana use, Reuters reports. Possession of small amounts of marijuana will be punished with fines instead of jail time.
Some prosecutors and law enforcement officials oppose changes to mandatory minimum sentences for some drug charges, according to The Washington Post. They say the changes will make it more difficult for them to go after criminal organizations or uncover other crimes.
“The leverage, the hammer we have comes in those penalties,” said Federal Prosecutor Steven H. Cook, who is part of a group of law enforcement officials who oppose changing current sentencing laws. “It is the one and only tool we have on the other side.”
Proponents of changing mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges say judges should have more flexibility in matching prison sentences to the threat defendants pose to public safety. Defense attorneys say the threat of having to serve a decades-long sentence leaves defendants without a choice at the plea bargaining table.
Advocates for changing the current drug sentencing laws say mandatory minimum sentences have been used to lock up low-level nonviolent offenders who face punishments that are much harsher than their crimes, the article notes. They note the policies have disproportionately affected minority communities.
A bipartisan coalition is calling for a change to mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. Legislation introduced recently in the House and Senate would shorten the length of some mandatory minimum sentences, and would provide judges with more flexibility in some sentencing.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said the Obama Administration supports legislation to reduce some mandatory sentences. She said prosecutors and investigators could still effectively do their jobs without such sentences.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month Yates said that the “prospect of a lengthy sentence certainly provides a powerful incentive for a defendant to cooperate, but I don’t think that it has to be a mandatory minimum sentence.” Mandatory penalties are “most effective when they are targeted at the most serious crimes and at the most serious offenders,” she said.