New Jersey’s Half-Baked Ballot Initiative Prevents Meaningful Marijuana Reform

(Source) On Election Day, November 3, 2020, voters in four states, New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in their states. These referendums, known as ballot initiatives, allow voters to participate in the state’s policymaking process by inviting them to vote on a proposed law. Prior to the 2020 election, nine states and D.C. legalized recreational marijuana through this method. Some ballot questions contained very general language concerning taxation and regulation. Now, eight years after the first successful legalization efforts in Washington and Colorado, the political conversation has evolved beyond rudimentary concerns.  This past year, criminal justice was on the ballot nationwide, allowing voters to impact state and local policies.  Now, there is a broader dialogue about legalizing recreational marijuana as a means of social and criminal justice reform. Many advocates of marijuana reform hope to wield this democratic tool to ensure that it would protect those who have been or would be harmed by marijuana’s criminalization. In light of the many historic moments of 2020 that have shed light on racial disparities and injustice in the United States, it is appropriate to address these key concerns in the ballot initiatives. In Arizona, the approved ballot measure included [read more]

Stepping Up: The First Step Act and Criminal Justice Reform

(Source)   America incarcerates people at a higher rate than any country in the world. The highly politicized War on Drugs led to a spike in incarceration, particularly in lower-income and minority communities. Although the prison population in the United States has declined since 2016, incarceration and recidivism rates remain high. According to a study by the United States Sentencing Commission, more than half of a group of 25,000 recently released individuals were rearrested for new crimes or violations of supervision conditions. Although recidivism rates vary depending on factors such as sentence length and an individual’s previous exposure the criminal justice system, the overall rate of recidivism looks bleak. In 2018, Congress enacted the First Step Act to target high mandatory minimum sentences and recidivism rates in the federal carceral system.   A First Step Forward The First Step Act reforms mandatory minimum sentencing laws, introduces earned time credit and improves good time credit systems, and remedies compassionate release programs in federal prisons. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws restrict judicial discretion in sentencing and force judges to impose certain penalties for certain crimes, typically focusing on drug-related offenses. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 is the major source of mandatory minimum [read more]