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Proposed legislation would create U.S. Department of Peace

Presidential candidate and member of Congress Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced HR 1673 in the House, a bill to establish a United States Department of Peace, and create the cabinet level position of Secretary of Peace. This bill would establish nonviolence as an organizing principle of American society, providing the President with an array of peace-building policy options for domestic and international use.

The Department would focus on nonmilitary peaceful conflict resolutions, prevent violence and promote justice and democratic principles to expand human rights. Domestically, the Department would be responsible for developing policies that address issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, mistreatment of the elderly, and other issues of cultural violence.

Internationally, the Department would gather research, analyze foreign policy and make recommendations to the President on how to address the root causes of war and intervene before violence begins while improving national security, including the protection of human rights and the prevention and de-escalation of unarmed and armed international conflict.

From the bill text:

Sec. 102, (b): Domestic Responsibilities - The Secretary shall . . .

(2) create new policies and incorporate existing programs that reduce drug and alcohol abuse;

(3) develop new policies and incorporate existing policies regarding crime, punishment, and rehabilitation.

To learn more about this legislation online, go to

Harsh drug bill isn't reform

One of Congress's staunchest drug warriors, Rep. Mark Souder, is at it again. The Indiana Republican, best known for authoring the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision, is about to introduce legislation that would jam federal prisons with even more drug law violators.

The bill, called with Orwellian flair the "Drug Sentencing Reform Act," is set to be introduced in early December, and Souder is looking for cosponsors, reported the Drug Policy Alliance, which has two staffers lobbying Capitol Hill full-time and organizing to kill the bill.

According to an explanation of the bill that Souder provided in e-mail to his colleagues, his legislation would:

  • Expand the purview of the Feeney Amendment, which restricts federal judges' ability to reduce sentences, to include drug offenses.
  • Mandate random drug testing for almost all federal parolees and probationers, not just drug offenders or people suspected of having substance abuse problems.
  • Direct the US Sentencing Commission to no longer allow lower sentences for nonviolent drug offenders who have certain mitigating circumstances (such as being addicted to drugs) or who lack previous criminal records.
  • Create harsh new penalties for growing "high-potency" marijuana.

"This was a little holiday surprise," said Bill Piper, legislative director at DPA's Washington DC office, "and it's not a very pleasant one. This bill is overwhelmingly bad," he told the Drug War Chronicle. "It's all sentencing and no reform. This bill continues a trend of tying the hands of judges and preventing them from reducing sentences for drug offenders. Not only will more people go to prison for longer stays, already-overburdened taxpayers will have to pay for it."

And then there's Souder's continuing war on marijuana. Long a loud opponent of medical marijuana, Souder has crafted a "high-potency" pot provision seemingly designed to be used against medical marijuana growers in states where the practice is legal. According to the bill's draft, marijuana-growing offenders will be sentenced not just on the weight of the drug but according to its potency. Souder's bill creates three classes of high potency pot, between 6 and 13% THC, 13-25% THC, and greater than 25% THC.

Source: The Drug War Chronicle -

DEA uses RAVE Act threats to block drug reform benefit

An agent of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used threats of RAVE Act prosecutions to intimidate the owners of a Billings, Montana venue into canceling a combined benefit for the Montana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for Sensible Drug Policy in late May.

The RAVE Act - now known officially as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act and championed by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) - was ostensibly aimed at so-called 'raves.' These 'raves' are large electronic music concerts often accompanied by open drug use, but the legislation was so broadly written that opponents argued it could be applied against any event or venue where owners or organizers did not take sufficiently repressive steps to prevent drug use. Opposition to the bill stalled it in the Senate last year, but this year Biden stealthily inserted it into the enormously popular Amber Alert Bill, which passed last month and was signed into law by President Bush.

While the Billings event was advertised as a benefit concert for two local groups interested in drug law reform - not as a drug-taking orgy - it still attracted the attention of the DEA. On May 30, the day the event was set to take place, a Billings-based DEA agent showed up at the Eagle's Lodge, which had booked the concert. Waving a copy of the RAVE Act in one hand, the agent warned that the lodge could face a fine of $250,000 if someone smoked a joint during the benefit, according to Eagle Lodge manager Kelly, who asked that her last name not be used.

"This confirms all our fears about the RAVE Act," said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, which spearheaded opposition to the bill, succeeding in blocking it last year. "This isn't about drug parties or raves, it's about having a club to hold over people's heads, whether it's hemp festivals, circuit parties, dances, whatever. The RAVE Act is being used to suppress political speech. This is exactly what Sen. Biden said would not happen, and now it's happening," he told The Drug War Chronicle.

Source: The Drug War Chronicle -

Senator Kennedy's bill would eliminate drug felony financial aid ban

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has introduced a bill that contains a provision that would eliminate the federal student aid ban for individuals with drug convictions, reports the Legal Action Center. S 1793, the "College Quality, Affordability, and Diversity Improvement Act of 2003," coincides with Congressional action to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1998 (HEA) - the single largest source of student aid in the US - during the 108th Congress.

In 1998, the HEA was amended by Congress to delay or deny federal financial aid to students on the basis of any drug offense. Over 100,000 students have been penalized on account of this provision.

Following introduction, S 1793 was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on October 28, where Senator Kennedy serves as the Ranking Member. Five other Democratic Senators who serve on the HELP committee cosponsored the bill.

HR 3575: The Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2003 (Full Bill Text)

108th CONGRESS - 1st Session; IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, November 21, 2003

Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas (for herself, Mr. LEWIS of Georgia, Mrs. CHRISTENSEN, Mr. CLAY, Mr. GRIJALVA, Mr. CUMMINGS, Mr. PAYNE, Ms. KILPATRICK, Mr. BALLANCE, Mr. OWENS, Mr. RUSH, Mr. DAVIS of Illinois, Mr. CONYERS, and Ms. WATSON) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To amend title 18, United States Code, to provide an alternate release date for certain nonviolent offenders, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the `Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2003'.


(a) IN GENERAL- Section 3624 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) in subsection (a), by inserting `at the early release date provided in subsection (g), if applicable, or otherwise' after `A prisoner shall be released by the Bureau of Prisons'; and

(2) by adding at the end the following:


Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Bureau of Prisons, pursuant to a good time policy, shall release from confinement a prisoner who has served one half or more of his term of imprisonment (including any consecutive term or terms of imprisonment) if that prisoner--

`(1) has attained the age of 45 years;
`(2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and
`(3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations.


Other legislative action - Compiled by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) -

HR 881 no federal sentencing solution

The so-called "Fairness in Sentencing Act" is anything but. Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) wants to turn back the clock on important sentencing reform accomplished by the U.S. Sentencing Commission just last year.

In May 2002, the Commission sent the mitigating role cap amendment to Congress. The cap became law on November 1, 2002, and caps sentences for defendants who receive a minimal or minor role adjustment at level 30 (roughly 10 years). Those defendants not facing mandatory minimum sentences can see their sentences reduced significantly.

Rep. Coble's bill would undo that relief and once again guarantee a peripherally involved "mule" or "courier" a larger conspiracy charge and kingpin-size sentence, just because quantity, not role in the offense, drives sentencing. This bill has 20 co-sponsors and is currently in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

HR 2166, a bill to provide affordable housing to ex-offenders

A bipartisan bill aims to increase public safety by helping former prisoners find affordable housing. It is estimated that 630,000 prisoners were released in 2002 alone. Some two-thirds are rearrested within three years. Without a stable living environment, former prisoners are more likely to fall into trouble. This bill was introduced mid-May 2003 by Reps. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Mark Souder (R-IN), and will provide a tax credit for private developers to build 100,000 units of single room occupancy housing. The bill also provides for a structured post-release environment with education, skills training, and other assistance for two years.

HR 1435: federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing reform

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) on March 25 introduced legislation to eliminate the mandatory minimum penalties associated with crack cocaine. Rep. Rangel has championed the cause of lowering crack cocaine penalties for a number of years. His bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

S 390, The Safety Valve Fairness in Sentencing Act of 2003

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) has introduced legislation to make the "safety valve" retroactive. This effort has long been on FAMM's agenda as a necessary and just measure to bring older sentences in line with the safety valve reform, passed in 1994. That reform, which permits judges to sentence certain drug crime defendants below the mandatory minimum if they meet a set of criteria, applies only to defendants sentenced after its passage. This left hundreds of similarly situated defendants eligible for safety valve relief in every respect, but for the accident of timing, to remain in prison to serve out their pre-safety valve sentences.

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