The legalization of cannabis and rapid scale up of
supervised-injection sites - as well as community-led initiatives,
such as the site set up by Overdose Prevention Ottawa in Lowertown
this month - have thrust Canada back into the limelight of global drug
policy. Against the backdrop of a national overdose crisis and a
fracturing of global consensus on drug prohibition, these are welcome
changes. Yet they only begin to chip away at the drug policy
challenges facing Canada.
Canada's policy community remains divided about how best to tackle the
overdose crisis. As the death toll mounts, should we invest more in
law and order approaches, treatment, harm reduction or some
[continues 582 words]
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday called drug overdose deaths
"the top lethal issue" in the U.S. and urged law enforcement and
social workers to "create and foster a culture that's hostile to drug
Sessions spoke to the annual conference of the National Alliance For
Drug Endangered Children. He said preliminary data show nearly 60,000
overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, the highest ever.
"Our current drug epidemic is indeed the deadliest in American
history. We've seen nothing like it," said Sessions.
[continues 143 words]
Seeking to crack down on the suppliers behind the state's lethal
opioid crisis, Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday filed a broad
legislative package that would create a new manslaughter charge for
drug dealers whose product causes a death.
Under Baker's plan, dealers would face a mandatory minimum of five
years for selling any drugs that result in a fatality.
"When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were
designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness
of the resulting harm," Baker wrote in a letter to state lawmakers in
support of the legislation. "In order to ensure that accountability,
this legislation establishes enhanced penalties that directly target
those who cause death by illegally selling drugs."
[continues 832 words]
Jailing addicts does nothing to stop substance abuse, says Michael
Last week, Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, pledged
Ottawa Public Health's support for "new evidence-based approaches" to
combat the problems caused by illegal drugs including - wait for it -
City Coun. Mathieu Fleury said, "It's a crazy thought, but it's a
crazy thought that might actually have some merit."
Fleury should be commended. Where Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson had cast off
the shackles of evidence-based thinking to stand against the city's
first safe consumption site, Fleury's open mindedness is a breath of
[continues 635 words]
I grew up in the 1980s, back when the "Just Say No" campaign was in
full swing. I remember being prepared to fend off relentless peer
pressure to do drugs, evil strangers offering what was not actually
candy, and so forth. Then I grew up, and almost none of the scenarios
I'd been taught in D.A.R.E. ever really came to pass.
I still avoided drugs, mostly because of a combination of a good home
life and an over-analytical brain. It wasn't as if drugs weren't
around, though. I watched too many of my friends experiment with
everything from speed to acid. No one ever pressured me to try it. It
was simply there if you wanted to dive in.
[continues 601 words]
Judge 'troubled' but forced to lock up single mother of four children
PLANS to appeal a mandatory minimum sentence as unconstitutional are
on the horizon for a Winnipeg mother who is now behind bars despite
the judge's declaration that justice would not be served by locking
Sandra Dignard, 37, was taken into custody Wednesday to start serving
her two-year federal prison sentence for smuggling drugs into Stony
Mountain prison five years ago. She tearfully said goodbye to her
young son and pleaded with other relatives to take good care of all
four of her children before sheriff's officers led her away, out of
view of her family.
[continues 833 words]
On a cool, rainy day, more than 200 people crowd under a tarp in the
parking lot of Big Mama's Restaurant, bidding on bicycles, air rifles
and marijuana posters to raise money to support a jailed local legend.
They have a lot of work to do, because Cornbread Mafia leader Johnny
Boone, captured in Canada and returned to Kentucky after eight years
as a fugitive, faces life in prison if convicted on his third strike,
for growing 2,421 marijuana seedlings on a farm. In 29 states and the
District of Columbia, marijuana is legal for recreational or medicinal
purposes, or both. But the federal government, while giving a virtual
free pass to growers in states where marijuana is legal, continues to
seek long mandatory minimum penalties against defendants in Kentucky
and other states where it is not.
[continues 1276 words]
The B.C. Court of Appeal has struck down as cruel and unusual
punishment the six-month mandatory jail sentence for growing between
six and 200 marijuana plants for the purposes of trafficking.
The high court decision, which echoed previous rulings that denounced
as unconstitutional other former Tory tough-on-crime provisions,
underscored the new federal Liberal administration's tardiness in
fulfilling promises to review such laws.
The decision pointed out that sea-changes in social attitudes, to
which the Conservative government seemed oblivious, must be taken into
account and "energize" Charter interpretations.
[continues 741 words]
In Heather Mac Donald's "Mandatory Minimums Don't Deserve Your Ire"
(op-ed, May 26) about mandatory minimum sentences (MMS), she writes
that 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentences are only given to
large-scale traffickers. In 2004 I was sentenced to 55 years in
federal prison for selling $1,000 worth of marijuana while possessing
a firearm. The judge who sentenced me called my punishment "unjust,
cruel and even irrational" and compared it to the much shorter federal
sentences given to repeat child rapists, murderers and even some terrorists.
[continues 69 words]
Under federal law, anyone convicted of selling just five grams of
methamphetamine-the weight of a nickel-is subject to a mandatory
five-year prison term. Get caught buying or selling a second time, no
matter how many years after your first offense, and you will be
subject to a 10-year mandatory prison sentence.
Ms. Mac Donald may pretend that mandatory sentences are reserved for
the likes of El Chapo, but the truth is mandatory sentences are more
often used against low-level offenders. Ninety-three percent of people
who receive federal mandatory minimums played no leadership role in
their crimes. There are lots of minnows and few sharks.
There are simply no studies that show mandatory sentences reduce drug
crime. Every dollar wasted on mandatory minimums is one that would be
better invested in proven anticrime strategies like hiring more police
officers and expanding substance abuse treatment.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
The fear conjured up by MMS is a prime motivator in the accused
accepting a plea bargain. Even with a person who believes he is
innocent, the downside is too great. There is something not right
about destroying accepted historical precedent of the evaluation by a
judge and jury, who have heard all the evidence and witnessed the
character, arguments and demeanor of the prosecution and the accused,
in favor of the wisdom of remote legislators stroked by the DAs
looking for a bailout for their inability to earn a conviction on the
[continues 63 words]
Mandatory Minimums Don't Deserve Your Ire Jeff Sessions's policy won't
lock up harmless stoners, but it will help dismantle drug-trafficking
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being tarred as a racist-again-for
bringing the law fully to bear on illegal drug traffickers. Mr.
Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to disclose in court the
actual amount of drugs that trafficking defendants possessed at the
time of arrest. That disclosure will trigger the mandatory penalties
set by Congress for large-scale dealers.
[continues 796 words]
Gives mom convicted of drug smuggling time to arrange child care ahead
of mandatory prison term
In a case that has raised questions about the effect of mandatory
minimum sentences, a Manitoba judge has taken pity on a woman he
convicted by agreeing to give her more freedom before he sends her to
In a likely unprecedented move, Justice Sheldon Lanchbery reserved his
decision and delayed the sentencing of 37-year-old Sandra Dignard by
about two months. That will allow the mother of four time to make
child-care arrangements before she is placed in custody. The judge
said he has no choice but to sentence Dignard to two years in prison
for drug trafficking, despite his belief she should not be locked up.
[continues 654 words]
When it comes to criminal justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a
man out of time - stuck defiantly in the 1980s, when crime in America
was high and politicians scrambled to out-tough one another by passing
breathtakingly severe sentencing laws. This mind-set was bad enough
when Mr. Sessions was a senator from Alabama working to thwart
sentencing reforms in Congress. Now that he is the nation's top law
enforcement officer, he's trying to drag the country backward with
him, even as most states are moving toward more enlightened policies.
[continues 426 words]
WASHINGTON - As a senator, Jeff Sessions was such a conservative
outlier on criminal justice issues that he pushed other Republicans to
the forefront of his campaign to block a sentencing overhaul, figuring
they would be taken more seriously.
Now Mr. Sessions is attorney general and need not take a back seat to
anyone when it comes to imposing his ultratough-on-crime views. The
effect of his transition from being just one of 535 in Congress to
being top dog at the Justice Department was underscored on Friday when
he ordered federal prosecutors to make sure they threw the book at
criminal defendants and pursued the toughest penalties possible.
[continues 880 words]
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week jettisoned an Obama
administration policy that had been aimed at sparing less-serious drug
offenders from harsh sentences, he called his new, more aggressive
approach "moral and just."
But the verdict among law-enforcement and legal professionals is more
mixed. Government data, along with interviews with former U.S.
attorneys who advised the Justice Department under President Barack
Obama, suggest the previous policy achieved several, though not all,
of its goals.
Then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced the policy that was to be
embodied in what became known as the "Holder memo" in a 2013 speech to
the American Bar Association. Mr. Holder pledged that federal
prosecutors would focus on more dangerous drug traffickers and avoid
charging less-serious offenders with crimes that required long,
mandatory-minimum sentences. Mandatory-minimum sentences, he said, had
led to bloated, costly prisons and disproportionately ravaged minority
[continues 702 words]
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to soon
toughen rules on prosecuting drug crimes, according to people familiar
with internal deliberations, in what would be a major rollback of
Obama-era policies that would put his first big stamp on a Justice
Department he has criticized as soft on crime.
Mr. Sessions has been reviewing a pair of memos issued by his
predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr., who encouraged federal prosecutors to
use their discretion in what criminal charges they filed, particularly
when those charges carried mandatory minimum penalties.
[continues 729 words]
Even as Gov. Nathan Deal was signing the latest batch of state laws
designed to keep lower-level offenders out of prison, the Trump
administration was preparing a crackdown seeking the toughest possible
charges against offenders convicted of nonviolent drug violations.
The U.S. Justice Department released directives Friday that call for
more mandatory minimum sentences and direct prosecutors to pursue the
strictest punishments available. It was a sweeping shift in criminal
justice policy, reversing Obama-era policies to reduce penalties for
some nonviolent offenses.
[continues 52 words]
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal
prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences
against crime suspects, he announced Friday, reversing Obama
administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug
The drastic shift in criminal justice policy, foreshadowed during
recent weeks, is Mr. Sessions's first major stamp on the Justice
Department, and it highlights several of his top targets: drug
dealing, gun crime and gang violence.
In an eight-paragraph memo, Mr. Sessions returned to the guidance of
President George W. Bush's administration by calling for more uniform
punishments - including mandatory minimum sentences - and instructing
prosecutors to pursue the harshest possible charges. Mr. Sessions's
policy is broader than that of the Bush administration, however, and
how it is carried out will depend more heavily on the judgments of
United States attorneys and assistant attorneys general as they bring
[continues 843 words]
In a move expected to swell federal prisons, Attorney General Jeff
Sessions is scuttling an Obama administration policy to avoid charging
nonviolent, less-serious drug offenders with long, mandatory-minimum
Mr. Sessions's new guidelines revive a policy created under President
George W. Bush that tasked federal prosecutors with charging "the most
serious readily provable offense."
It is the latest and most significant step by the new administration
toward dismantling President Barack Obama's criminal justice legacy.
And it defies a trend in state capitals-including several led by
conservative Republicans-toward recalibrating or abandoning the
mandatory-minimum sentences popularized during the "war on drugs" of
the 1980s and 1990s.
[continues 820 words]