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Spotlight on evolving American drug policy, attitudes

Decisions recently made by a federal judge, as well as the sentencing pronouncement he ultimately issued in a drug case, will likely be scrutinized by prosecutors, defense attorneys and other interested parties across the country.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar is the sentencing judge in a marijuana possession and distribution case in Maryland involving a smuggling enterprise in which 22 people have already been convicted. The marijuana was allegedly imported from California and New Jersey, with the sales proceeds laundered through a New Jersey-based eBay business.

What was notable in Bredar’s courtroom last week was his suspension of scheduled sentencings in lieu of a hearing first in which he oversaw a debate on a liberalized drug policy recently announced by the Justice Department.

An inquiry centrally posed by Bredar was this: “Has the federal government changed its enforcement policy?”

Comments forthcoming from the judge evidence his personal view that the government is indeed staking out a new -- and softened -- position on federal drug crimes sentencing. Bredar said at the hearing that marijuana traffickers might logically now be considered as more closely akin to cigarette smugglers than to hard-core drug offenders.

“It’s a serious thing,” he conceded, “but it’s not the same as dealing heroin.”

Bredar’s actions and statements reflect a thoughtful consideration of rapidly evolving laws and standards that have gone far toward decriminalizing marijuana offenses in many states, as well as the recent DOJ announcements manifesting a more relaxed federal view of certain marijuana-related activities.

Following Bredar’s hearing, he departed significantly from the federal sentencing guidelines recommending that he impose a prison term on one of the defendants of between 8 and 11 years. He instead pronounced a sentence of slightly less than five years.

Drug laws across the United States are in flux and unquestionably complex. The interplay between state and federal law and the continued existence of the sentencing guidelines and judges’ uneven attitudes toward them only add to that complexity.

A proven criminal defense attorney with experience handling drug cases can answer questions and advocate strongly on behalf of any person facing a criminal drug charge.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Federal judge weighs shift on marijuana sentences," Ian Duncan, Oct. 25, 2013

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