Two judges in the Northern District of Iowa recently have announced that they disagree with on policy grounds, and no longer will follow, the marijuana equivalency called for in the Sentencing Guidelines when imposing sentences in cases involving actual methamphetamine and ice.
The Sentencing Guidelines distinguish between a methamphetamine mixture and actual/pure methamphetamine or ice, which it defines as methamphetamine that is at least 80% pure, treating actual/pure methamphetamine or ice ten times more harshly than a mixture of marijuana. One gram of actual (pure) methamphetamine or ice has a marijuana equivalency of 20 kilograms whereas one gram of a methamphetamine mixture has an equivalency of 2 kilograms. The ratio has its roots in 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1). Comment 27(c) to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1 offers the only explanation of the Commission’s view on the relevance of purity to the appropriate sentence, asserting that purity “is probative of the defendant’s role or position in the chain of distribution” and that “since controlled substances are often diluted and combined with other substances as they pass down the chain of distribution, the fact that a defendant is in possession of unusually pure narcotics may indicate a prominent role in the criminal enterprise and proximity to the source of the drugs.”
As Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand and District Judge Mark W. Bennett explain in United States v. Harry and United States v. Nawanna, respectively, there is no empirical basis for the 10-1 ratio and, because nearly all methamphetamine trafficked is substantially pure, purity is not an accurate proxy for culpability and it makes little sense to enhance virtually all methamphetamine defendants’ sentences on the basis of purity. Both judges indicated that they therefore will apply the only the 2 kilogram marijuana equivalency even in cases involving actual/pure methamphetamine or ice.
As with the crack/powder cocaine disparity, District Courts have the discretion to disagree with the Guidelines on policy grounds and find that a particular Guideline should not applied in a given case. If you have a case involving actual/pure methamphetamine or ice, you should argue that there is no empirical basis for applying the 10-1 ratio and that, because purity is not actually a proxy for culpability, the court should not apply it in your case.