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Court Grants Compassionate Release Based on Changes in Marijuana Laws

A judge released an inmate from prison after finding that recent changes in marijuana laws presented “extraordinary and compelling circumstances” warranting the inmate’s release. The court sentenced a defendant in April 2021 after a jury found him guilty of growing marijuana and using a firearm in 2012. Soon after it imposed the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, a lawyer filed a motion for a sentence reduction, and the judge granted the motion.

There are two big takeaways from the case:

1. Some judges may be willing to consider motions for compassionate release based on changes in marijuana laws. The brief submitted by the defendant not only detailed changes in state laws and federal sentencing regarding marijuana, it pointed out that Congress now limits the use of federal funds to prosecute grow operations. The court’s opinion is a natural extension of the position that sentencing reforms can be the basis for granting an inmate a sentence reduction if the inmate would have been sentenced to substantially less time under today’s law, even where Congress did not make those reforms retroactive.

2. The Court here was willing to grant a motion for compassionate release almost immediately after sentencing. The opinion may be useful to cite in cases where a sentencing judge expresses disagreement with a mandatory minimum sentence he or she must impose. A well-briefed post-sentencing motion requesting a reasonable reduction should merit serious consideration, especially in cases where the defendant has already served extensive time in custody.

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