Washington DC: Federal legislation introduced last week would impose mandatory minimum sentences on defendants who furnish a controlled substance, including marijuana, to any individual under 18 years of age or who has previously been enrolled in a drug treatment program. The bill, H.R. 4547, was introduced just one week prior to the release of an American Bar Association (ABA) report calling for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.
Under the proposed legislation, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), any person age 21 or over who attempts or conspires to offer marijuana to someone younger than 18 years old shall face a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison. The mandatory penalty for a subsequent violation of the statute is life in prison.
Defendants found to have distributed marijuana near a drug treatment facility, or who have offered pot to someone who is currently or has previously been enrolled in drug treatment, would receive a mandatory prison sentence of five years to life under the proposal.
The bill would also impose mandatory minimum sentences on defendants found to have manufactured or distributed pot near various public and private establishments, including libraries, daycare centers, and video arcades, as well as impose life imprisonment upon individuals convicted of their third drug felony.
To date, Sensenbrenner’s proposal has no co-sponsors.
Representative Sensenbrenner’s proposed expansion of mandatory minimum sentencing comes at the same time that delegates of the 400,000-member American Bar Association are considering recommendations to abolish such statutes. This week, the ABA released a report concluding, “There is no need for mandatory minimum sentences in a guided sentencing system.” Authors wrote that mandatory minimum sentences shift sentencing discretion away from courts to prosecutors, have an adverse effect on minority defendants, and “are inconstant with the notion that sentences should consider all of the relevant circumstances of an offense and offender.”
The ABA will vote in August whether to adopt the recommendations as official positions for the organization. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Boston ruled that mandatory minimums were unconstitutional because they disproportionately weigh the system toward prosecutors and against defendants.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500. To learn more about H.R. 4547, please visit:
Full text of the American Bar Association report is available online at: