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Democratic Senators Urge Restoring
Funds for Drug Task Forces

In an attempt at using tough-on-crime rhetoric to win partisan political advantage, a number of Democratic senators are criticizing the Bush administration for seeking further cuts in drug war spending programs beloved by law enforcement. In its 2007 budget proposal, the administration proposed cutting more than $1.2 billion in federal funding for state and local law enforcement, including the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, which goes to fund the multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces that have run amok around the country for years.

The JAG program has pumped about $500 million a year into the drug task forces, which have made a reputation for themselves as the focus of abuse, corruption and bad policing. Texas narc Tom Coleman, the man whose perjury sent dozens of black residents of Tulia to prison on bogus charges, was working under the auspices of a JAG-funded drug task force. Other Texas task forces have managed to arrest dozens of blacks - and no whites or Hispanics - in another Texas town, Hearne. Undercover police have taken to buying $5 crack rocks from addicts, charging them as drug dealers, sending them off to prison for years, then claiming victories in the drug war for doing so.

Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mark Dayton (D-MN), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have all loudly called for restored funding for the program, even though the Office of Management and Budget has found it is a failure and taxpayer watchdog groups such as Citizens Against Government Waste and the National Taxpayers Union have described it as little more than "pork barrel spending." All three senators called the grants essential "for a rural state" and cited the much-hyped methamphetamine "epidemic" as the reason the program must continue.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was the latest to jump on the JAG bandwagon. In an early-February press release, Reid joined his Democratic colleagues in criticizing the proposed cuts, and he hit the same talking points. "Once again, President Bush's budget will inhibit the ability of first responders to prepare for new threats and law enforcement to combat the growing methamphetamine problem," he said, adding that the programs are "specifically designed to assist rural communities."

Reid attacked the Bush budget not only on the JAG program, but also for proposing deep cuts in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which, Reid noted, helps "combat methamphetamine use and distribution," among other things. And while the Bush budget proposes $40 million for a Methamphetamine Cleanup Program, that isn't enough, Reid said.

The Bush budget, with its cuts in just about everything except military spending, provides Democrats with countless opportunities for opposition based on their own principles. Too bad some this time are instead siding with Republican drug warriors like Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) and self-interested law enforcement lobbyists to argue for more funding for a failed program indicative of a failed, general drug policy.

Source: The Drug War Chronicle

Bipartisan Group of US Senators Introduce Bill to Reduce Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

Four US senators -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- introduced legislation on July 25, 2006 that would reduce the disparity in sentencing for those caught with powder cocaine and those caught with crack. Currently, it takes 100 times as much powder cocaine to earn the same sentence as a crack offender. Under the bill, the Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2006 (S. 3725), that disparity would be reduced to 20-to-1.

The harsh laws against crack were passed in a rush in the summer of 1986, as part of the enactment of federal mandatory minimum sentences, after the death of basketball player Len Bias galvanized then House Speaker Tip O'Neill to act. Ironically, Bias died after using powder cocaine.

Federal prisons are filled with people, the vast majority of them black, doing lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for federal crack convictions. In 2000, for example, 84% of those sentenced under federal crack laws were black, 9% Hispanic, and 5% white. With powder cocaine, 30% of offenders were black, 50% Hispanic, and 15% white. Again ironically, powder cocaine appears to currently be much more popular with young people than crack.

While it takes 500 grams -- more than a pound -- of powder cocaine to merit the five-year mandatory minimum, it takes only five grams of crack. Under the bill, the senators would slightly lower the quantity for powder cocaine and increase the quantity for crack cocaine. The senators propose 400 grams of powder to trigger the mandatory minimum and 20 grams of crack.

The four senators introducing the bill are Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ken Salazar (D-CO). All are former state attorneys general, and they cited that experience in arguing for the reform. Sen. Cornyn told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that his experience as Texas attorney general led him to believe "laws should be firm but fair. We not only need just laws, but they need the appearance and reality of fairness."

"This bill would bring measured and balanced improvements in the current sentencing system to ensure a more just outcome -- tougher sentences on the worst and most violent drug offenders and less severe sentences on lower-level, nonviolent offenders," said Sen. Sessions in a statement. "The 100-to-1 disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine is not justifiable. Our experience with the guidelines has convinced me that these changes will make the criminal justice system more effective and fair. It's time to act."

"Cocaine poses a significant threat because it is readily available, highly addictive and directly associated with violent crime in both rural and urban communities," said Sen. Pryor. "We need to send a strong message to those who buy and sell this drug, and that includes fixing the disparities that exist in our sentencing guidelines and keeping the most dangerous offenders off the streets."

The bill would also decrease penalties for people peripherally involved in federal drug offenses and increase penalties for those dealers who engaged in violence or used children as part of their drug operations.

"The 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine can no longer be justified," said Sen. Salazar. "This bill would begin the process of ensuring that the punishment for crack and cocaine is severe, but just. As a former attorney general, I am sensitive to the balance that must be struck to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. The Drug Sentencing Reform Act is an important step toward achieving this balance and I am hopeful the rest of the Senate will support this common-sense bill."

For Sen. Cornyn, the concern was that the laws are not keeping up with current trends in drug use. "Though we have made great strides in the war on drugs in recent years, Congress must remain vigilant in addressing this problem where and when it is required," he said. "Today, more high school students use powder than crack. In 2005, the rate of powder cocaine use among 12th Graders was almost three times as high as the rate of crack cocaine use. It is important that our drug laws reflect those troubling statistics which is what this legislation seeks to do."

Sentencing reform advocates are taking a measured view toward the legislation. For example, a bulletin from the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) called the bill "half right."

What the senators are proposing is only a tiny first step toward justice, said Nora Callahan, executive director of The November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on winning freedom for drug war prisoners. "If a fight over the bill is brewing, I'd like to duke it out and get retroactivity provisions," she told DRCNet. "That would be a first. We need a breakthrough in this regard; when laws are changed, people already sentenced see no relief. That's wrong."

There should be no difference in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, said Callahan. "No disparity would be justice, but sadly, is not the 'American Way.' We restore justice incrementally in this country. People that struggle for notions of fairness in law and sentencing have to make tactical decisions. We are waiting for input from those imprisoned on these laws, and they'll be asking what's in the bill for them. Will they give sentencing relief to those sentenced at the 100-to-1 ratio?"

Drug and sentencing reformers and civil rights organizations have long called for greater equity in cocaine sentencing, but previous attempts to redress the disparities have gone nowhere. With bipartisan support from some "tough on crime" senators this time around, pressure could be starting to mount that would result in actual positive changes.

Source: The Drug War Chronicle

Slow Progress for Medical Marijuana in Congress

From Drug Policy Alliance

In June, the US House of Representatives again thumbed its nose at compassion and common sense by rejecting the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would have prohibited the federal government from undermining state medical marijuana laws. The final vote was 163 for / 259 against. This is two more "yes" votes than last year and a sign that support is slowly growing. (Since three Representatives who voted for the amendment last year couldn't make the vote this year, the base of support is actually up five over last year).

Though there is a lot to say about this, Congressman David Obey (D-WI) summed it up best when speaking in support of the amendment:

"If I am terminally ill, it is not anybody's business on this floor how I handle the pain or the illness or the sickness associated with that illness. With all due respect to all of you, butt out. I did not enter this world with the permission of the Justice Department, and I am certainly not going to depart it by seeking their permission or that of any other authority. The Congress has no business telling people that they cannot manage their illness or their pain any way they need to. I would trust any doctor in the country before I trust some of the daffy ducks in this institution to decide what I am supposed to do if I am terminally ill When is this Congress going to recognize that individuals in their private lives have a right to manage their problems as they see fit without the permission of the big guy in the White House or the big guy in the Justice Department or any of the Lilliputians on this Congressional floor? Wake up!" - Zing!

Legislation Update:

HR 3072 -- To Revive The System Of Parole For Federal Prisoners

This bill is slowly gaining ground, having garnered 12 co-sponsors as of this writing. If you wish to build grassroots support for HR 3072, you can sign and collect signatures for November Coalition's Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice, available on our web site at We have collected over 120,000 signatures supporting earned, early release to date.

For more on federal parole and other federal legislation, including an easy-to-use online form to contact your US Representative in support of HR 3072, visit

Legislation Update:

HR 1704 -- The Second Chance Act

From FedCURE

This bill (and its' companion bill in the Senate, S 1934) reauthorizes the grant program of the Department of Justice for reentry of offenders into the community, and establishes a task force on Federal programs and activities relating to the reentry of offenders into the community. 112 Representatives have signed on so far, while 25 Senators have signed on to its' companion bill in the US Senate, S 1934.

On July 26, 2006 members of the House Judiciary Committee passed HR 1704 by voice vote, sending the bill to the House floor for consideration. During the mark-up of the bill, the Committee accepted a substitute amendment offered by the Crime Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) that provides additional drug treatment programs, family-based treatment resources, and an elderly non-violent offender pilot program. Also accepted were amendments from Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), which added, respectively, re-entry courts, resources for electronic monitoring of parolees, and continuity of medical care for mentally ill and chronically ill offenders. Committee members voted down several amendments proposed by Rep. Gohmert to add faith-based language into the bill.

Many committee members voiced concerns over any amendment or action that would jeopardize bipartisan support around the bill. "The language in the bill is the result of compromise and hard work from Republicans, Democrats, and faith-based organizations to make sure our prisons are not just revolving doors and to improve prisoners' chances of becoming productive, contributing citizens when they re-enter the community," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), member of the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Cannon introduced the Second Chance Act with Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (R-OH).

"I commend my colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee for working together in a bipartisan manner to pass the Second Chance Act," said Rep. Tubbs-Jones. "Today's action by the Judiciary Committee means that the Second Chance Act is one step closer to becoming law and assisting the ex-offender community in changing their lives for the better."

The SCA, with the new amendments, allocates $176 million to fund a variety of re-entry programs, including faith-based programs. One of the main components of the bill is the funding of demonstration projects that would provide ex-offenders with a coordinated continuum of housing, education, health, employment, and mentoring services. For more information on the bill including a list of its 112 cosponsors, please click here.

For more on HR 1704, and other legislative news, see

Dear Novemberistas -

The number of letters that we have sent to families and friends to pass on to their US Representatives is approaching 4000. I am confident that the 109th Congress will run out of time before we will. In fact, we have had a new guy recently join our local network of parole pushers.

Tyson is a 21-year old former "Gangster Disciple" from Atlanta who started time as a juvenile -- 17 years old. He has all the former gang members sending out letters and contributing stamps. He has also sent letters to EVERY member of the Senate who hasn't co-sponsored The Second Chance Act, and is now working on those un-supportive members of The House.

In struggle, Glenn

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

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