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California's 3 strikes law up for vote in November

Some states have enacted strict laws related to drug possession of any type. Under three-strikes laws and similar statutes, possession of even a small amount of marijuana can result in a lengthy prison term. Recently, a man suffered this fate when he was sentenced to life in prison for possession and attempted distribution of marijuana. He received this severe penalty because he was a repeat offender with previous marijuana convictions. However, a life sentence for marijuana may leave some wondering if the punishment fits the crime.

In the state of California, repeat offenders earn a prison sentence of a minimum of 25 years for a third felony for crimes ranging from sexual and violent offenses to drug possession. California inmates who were in prison for the three-strikes law were most commonly serving time for drug charges, robbery, assault and burglary according to a 2005 report. In light of this, California has placed the "Three Strikes Reform Act" on the upcoming ballot, which would lessen penalties for nonviolent offenders for a third crime.

Scientists are also getting involved in this issue by studying the brains of addicts, who make up about 66 percent of all people who are incarcerated. One study demonstrated differences in the brains of teens before they had ever consumed alcohol. They took additional scans after the teens had begun drinking. Eventually, those who drank heavily could not memorize or process information as well as their peers.

Scientific studies related to substance abuse continue to reveal important information about addictive behaviors. In some cases, this could play a mitigating role in the sentencing of defendants. Until then, however, it's important that those who have been convicted of a felony know that three felony convictions means an automatic prison sentence.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Three Strikes Law & Drug Addiction: What Does The Science Say?" Jacqueline Howard, Sept. 4, 2012

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