Some Arizonans are proud that the state is considered one of the fiercest “tough-on-crime” states in the country. Many even supported convicted (now pardoned) former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “tent city” prison slum he touted as representative of the way convicted criminals should be handled.

One of the problems – quite apart from the Constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment – is that many of the victims of the harsh sentencing laws are in jail or prison not because they committed heinous crimes, but because they possessed illegal drugs, including marijuana. We think things are going to change, but don’t expect miracles. We don’t, for example, anticipate conservative congressmen suddenly to realize that incarcerating drug users is (a) ineffective, (b) a waste of taxpayer money, and (c) less likely to reduce recidivism than measures such as treatment and alternative sentencing.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner has recently joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, which grows marijuana and sells it in 11 states. As recently as 2015, Boehner said that he was against legalizing marijuana. His position while Speaker of the House was based on his conclusion that legalization would lead to “increased abuse of all varieties of drugs . . ..” He now says that marijuana laws have lead to the filling of jails with people accused of minor marijuana possession.

Just about everyone – apart from the private prison industry and those who benefit from its lobbying efforts – believes that something is amiss in the Arizona sentencing laws. The question is what to fix and how to fix it. A theme often heard is one calling for an end to mandatory minimum sentencing, particularly for drug laws. But there are over a dozen bills that have been introduced this session in the Arizona legislature dealing with the issue of sentencing. Some have already been killed, but there is hope that some, which seek to reduce recidivism and stop practices that have an unfair impact on the poor, may yet succeed.

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028


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