That's the title of this intriguing piece from FAMM president Julie Stewart, on today's Huffington Post.
To legalize, or not to legalize? That is so often the question when it comes to public debate about marijuana. But there is another aspect of the debate, which is not raised often enough: why do we still have draconian five and 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentences for marijuana crimes at the federal level?
[I]f the debate over marijuana policy consists only of legalization versus prohibition, the current stalemate could remain for several years. But there is a way to bridge the gap between those who think pot should remain illegal but be a low priority for law enforcement and those who think it should be legal and regulated like alcohol. ...
In 2010, federal convictions for marijuana-related offenses exceeded convictions for any other drug, and a full 44 percent of marijuana offenses carried a five- or 10-year mandatory sentence. Fortunately, most were spared the mandatory minimum because the crime was their first felony offense. But nearly 1,000 people in 2010 were subject to a lengthy mandatory minimum at sentencing.
These long sentences do not reflect the choices of federal judges. ... When asked by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2010, more than half of all federal judges responded that mandatory minimum penalties for marijuana offenses were too high.
Congress is not likely to decriminalize marijuana any time soon. Likewise, the states will probably not be allowed to opt out of the federal drug laws. Reasonable people can disagree with whether this is a good or bad thing -- and given recent poll numbers, it appears that reasonable people are equally divided.
What is not reasonable, however, is to keep in place a two-decade-old punishment scheme that locks people up for extraordinarily harsh prison terms for engaging in conduct that half of the country thinks should be legal -- conduct in which more than half of this year's presidential contenders engaged. Common sense should compel Congress to eliminate or drastically reform marijuana mandatory minimum prison sentences.Indeed, there is a third way: let's get rid of mandatory sentences for marijuana (and, while we're at it, all other crimes, too).