New Task Force Takes On Unfair Drug Laws

By Sarah Beller 05/08/13

Investigations into "overcriminalization" in federal law could lead to drug policy reform.

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Overcrowding in a California Prison.
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Today, a bi-partisan group of ten members from the House of Representatives formed the Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013 to investigate the excesses of federal criminal law. A huge part of the investigation will focus on drug laws, like federal pot policy, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Currently, only Congress can remove federal criminal penalties for marijuana—even for individuals who are in compliance with state laws that differ from federal ones, like the laws in Colorado or Washington legalizing weed for recreational. The Task Force will also explore the drug sentencing policies of the last three decades that have contributed to the staggering rate of incarceration for drug-related offenses. “This Task Force is a step in the right direction and could propose recommendations to significantly alleviate mass incarceration and racial disparities in the federal system,” says Jasmine L. Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Nearly a quarter of the world’s inmates are in the US, even though Americans make up only 5% of the world population. And the incarceration rate for African Americans is six times that of the national incarceration average. The Task Force may also investigate conspiracy laws from the late 1980s, whereby the mandatory sentences first created for high-level drug traffickers have been applied to those charged with smaller-scale drug trafficking conspiracies. “The establishment of this Task Force is long overdue for the drug policy reform movement,” says Tyler. “It is past time for Congress to re-examine marijuana laws, conspiracy laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the appropriate role and use of the federal government’s resources.”

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.