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Lower drug crime sentences getting better, but still need work

If you're a frequent reader of our blog then you know that the last time we talked about mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes was back in 2014 when we wrote this post illustrating the detrimental effect mandatory minimum sentences have on individuals and their families. We also pointed out that change was on the way.

In today's post, we'd like to speak to those of our readers who may not keep up on criminal law news like we do. You may not know that late last year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that reformed the criminal justice system by lowering mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes. The law will not only help reduce federal prison populations moving forward but, because the law was also applied retroactively, meaning many prisoners were released early for time served.

Though lowering the amount of time judges must sentence a person to for drug crimes is being hailed as a triumph for criminal justice reform, some point out that more needs to be done. As Molly Gill, a member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, so eloquently stated in a January Vice article, "The punishment should fit the crime and the individual" and in many drug crimes cases, this isn't the case at all.

Take for example a first-time offense for possession of marijuana. A person can expect to face at least a year in jail after a conviction. If you are caught selling marijuana, even a small amount, you could face a minimum of five years under federal law. Punishments for cultivating marijuana illegally is just as harsh. And because of the narrow scope of existing laws here in Virginia, even cultivating medical marijuana in some circumstances could lead to drug charges.

So, even with the current changes to our laws, it is still important to speak with a trained and experienced criminal defense attorney when facing drug charges. They know the law in its most up-to-date form and can counsel you on what steps you need to take to fight the charges against you. With their help, you may see the charges against you reduced or dropped altogether.

Sources: Vice, "A Task Force Just Explained How to Cut the US Federal Prison Population," Brian McManus, Jan. 26, 2016

Vice, "US Senators Have Finally Reached a Deal to Overhaul the Criminal Justice System," Drew Millard, Oct. 1, 2015

Norml.org, "Federal Laws & Penalties," Accessed Feb. 25, 2016

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