U.S.: Federal Bills Seek To Reclassify Drug Possession Felonies as Misdemeanors

U.S. Capitol

By Michael Bachara
Hemp News

On June 27, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison (D) reintroduced the Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment Act of 2017, known as the RESET Act. The bipartisan legislation would reclassify specific low-level, non-violent drug possession felonies as misdemeanors. On May 27, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced the original bill, S. 1252 in the United States Senate.

“After billions of dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of lives ruined, our country has nothing to show for the ‘War on Drugs’ than a generation of prisoners and victims of police violence. More than a million and a half Black men are missing from our society because of our broken criminal justice system," Rep. Ellison said.

“Since the 1980’s we’ve made some progress on making our sentencing laws and criminal justice administration less cruel. We can’t afford to go backward to a time where getting caught with a gram of pot meant 10 years in prison," Rep. Ellison explained.

“We need to start to repair the communities our drug laws have ravaged, and work to build a country where every young person can succeed – whether they live in the wealthy suburbs or a low-income community. This bill will help make the punishments for non-violent and low-level drug offenses fairer and more just. And that’s a good first place to start," Rep. Ellison continued.

“The RESET Act more closely aligns punishment with the severity of the offense, making it possible for someone to get a second chance after a non-violent, youthful mistake, instead of a lifetime punishment,” said Sen. Paul. “Our legislation will bring much-needed reform to our criminal justice system by ending the worst sentencing injustices for non-violent offenses.”

“Today, our flawed criminal justice system imposes strict punishments for non-violent, low-level crimes, creating a destructive cycle of recidivism that impacts those in our most vulnerable communities,” said Sen. Schatz. “Our bill makes commonsense changes that will make sure punishments for low-level crimes are fair and our resources are directed toward violent criminals.”

Paul Loney, a prominent cannabis attorney in Oregon, told Hemp News, "The punishment should fit the crime Saddling a person with a felony at the federal level impacts their life permanently. No matter how productive the person becomes in their life, having a felony on their record negatively impacts them. As a society we need to move beyond the idea that labeling a person as a felon will somehow fix all of our problems."

Although the federal bills do not end cannabis prohibition, they are in sharp contrast to the rhetoric being used by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who seeks to escalate the failed war on cannabis.