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In a disappointing move, the Canadian House of Commons passed "the controversial C-15 mandatory minimum sentencing drug offense bill" in early June of 2009, according to the Drug War Chronicle's June 12 feature article ("In Bold Step Backward, Canadian House of Commons Passes Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Bill").

The Chronicle reports that, "Bowing to the wishes of [...] Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Party Members of Parliament (MPs) joined Monday with Harper's Conservatives" to approve the measure after an unsuccessful filibuster attempt by opposing NDP and Bloc MPs.

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[...] But the government has a responsibility to use taxpayer money wisely[, and] I have concluded that [these] sentencing policies are not worth the high cost to America's taxpayers." But Subcommittee members remained divided even after sitting through such convincing and bipartisan testimony.

Although Waters told Talk Radio News that mandatory minimum sentences "have failed to accomplish the legislative intent of the 1986 anti drug abuse act," represent a "wast[e of] precious government resources," and have "had a desolate impact on the African-American community [...] for many, many years," her Texan colleague Rep.

The "Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act" now passes onto the full House, where it will hopefully gain approval, as well.

On July 22, 2009 Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) released a victorious statement ("Subcommittee Votes to Equalize Cocaine Punishments"), announcing that "the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security unanimously passed H. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009." If the remainder of their House colleagues and counterparts in the Senate approve the bill as well, all "references to 'cocaine base'" will be "remove[d] from the U. Code, effectively treating all cocaine, including crack, the same for sentencing purposes." The bill would - rather than raising penalties for powder cocaine to the same level as those currently in place for crack cocaine or simply ratcheting down the disparity's ratio, as some earlier proposals suggested - entirely equalize crack and powder cocaine sentencing statutes.

Louie Gohmert stated that "Judges should not be free to sentence felonies as misdemeanors.

If there is no bottom to the range there will be more incidents where people will be killed or harmed because of light sentences." However, with two House bills currently aimed at increasing judicial discretion or repealing mandatory minimums altogether, legislators will have the opportunity to utilize their own discretion if and when the measures move out of Committee.

As the Chronicle writes, "MP Libby Davis (NDP-Vancouver East) told Vancouver's Cannabis Culture magazine [that] 'The evidence shows very, very strongly [...] that mandatory minimum sentencing is not an effective policy when it comes to drug crime.'" According to "Vancouver marijuana activist and Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery, [...] 'Mid and upper-level traffickers will get no particular increase in punishment, because a major dealer would already get six months or a year for any kind of trafficking.'" He asserted that the measure would instead affect "people who wouldn't normally go to jail" and that young people would comprise the vast majority of those new prisoners.

Although, according to the Chronicle, the Canadian Senate - where the bill next stops - "typically -- but not always -- defers to the House" in legislative affairs, opponents of the measure hope but do not necessarily expect that the Senate will "act to block the passage of C-15" or at least "kill the bill by refusing to act on it before new elections are called." If the Senate does not exercise the above mentioned options, however, Canada will take a rare step backward by enacting draconian, harmful, and ineffective mandatory minimum drug policies just as other nations - including the United States - are beginning to realize the negative consequences such measures carry.

As reported in a July 14, 2009 article by Talk Radio News Service's Aaron Richardson ("House Subcommittee Members Seek to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenders"), "The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a meeting on Tuesday to consider legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders." In fact, as reported in a press release circulated by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) on the same day ("Unusual Allies Call on Congress to Fit the Punishment to the Crime"), the hearing included discussion of three sentencing reform measures: Rep. Stewart told members that "What really motivated me to start [FAMM] was not the length of my brother Jeff's five-year mandatory sentence - it was witnessing the judge's inability to give my brother the sentence he wanted to." Stewart added, "At sentencing, the judge stated that his 'hands were tied,' by mandatory sentencing laws," which she says "seemed utterly un-American [and] still does." Although Stewart noted recent rulings that now allow judges to exercise degrees of discretion in certain drug-related cases where mandatory minimums could be utilized, she argued that current "Safety Valve" measures don't go far enough.

For his part, Norquist backed up Stewart's assertion that "mandatory minimums are a failure" by reciting the words of late journalist and cultural critc H. Mencken: "'There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong.'" Norquist continued, saying that, "Today, a generation later, it is increasingly clear that adoption of mandatory minimums, while neat and plausible responses to sentencing disparities, was the wrong solution." Norquist also cited the expense of such sentencing policies for taxpayers, testifying that, "Questioning the wisdom of mandatory minimums has nothing to do with being soft on crime.

She told the paper that prosecutors frequently use the threat of three-strikes sentencing "to extract a longer sentence than what otherwise might be imposed." However, Washington's decision to review three-strikes cases and grant clemency to unfairly sentenced offenders certainly represents a step in the right direction. Representative for Virginia, Robert "Bobby" Scott, took another small step forward on July 30, 2009, as the Virginian-Pilot reports ("Bill on Cocaine Sentencing Passes House Panel").

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