According to a report in Marijuna Moment, members of the federal U.S. The Sentencing Commission (USSC) met in public to vote on a proposal to change sentencing guidelines to indicate that judges treat prior marijuana possession convictions more leniently.
Existing federal sentencing guidelines instruct federal courts to consider prior convictions as aggravating factors, including state-level cannabis charges. However, as more states have taken steps to legalize the drug, activists have fought for revised policies to ensure that a person’s marijuana conviction does not result in additional criminal history points and a harsher sentence.
While the new USSC proposal doesn’t aim to eliminate marijuana convictions from the criminal history factor altogether, it would revise commentary within the guidelines to “include sentences resulting from possession of marihuana offenses as an example of when a downward departure from the defendant’s criminal history may be warranted,” as the synopsis puts it.
A “downward departure” occurs when a federal judge hands down a sentence that is shorter than the mandatory minimum required by the federal sentencing guidelines. The proposed amendment would effectively formalize the idea that cases involving mere cannabis possession, “without an intent to sell or distribute it to another person,” should be subject to leniency in punishment.
Towards the end of the year, the body will vote on whether or not to accept the new proposed amendment, which would add possession of marijuana for personal use as another applicable case.
Judges are expected to consider a defendant’s criminal past as one of two primary criteria in arriving at a sentencing. The severity of the punishment should correspond with the offender’s prior criminal record, which might range from Level I (the least serious) to Level VI (the most serious).
The commission is asking the public “whether there is an alternative strategy it should explore for addressing punishments for possession of marijuana” on the proposed change. USSC is open to suggestions on removing cannabis possession from a criminal history if the conviction occurred in a decriminalized jurisdiction.
The commission will rule on the proposed amendment after the March 14 public comment session.
The current downward departure guidelines do not mention cannabis. “The offender had two minor misdemeanor convictions close to ten years before the current conduct and no other evidence of prior criminal behavior in the intervening period,” says the USSC.