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Judge rejects marijuana sentencing guidelines, gives shorter terms

BALTIMORE, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Maryland, saying public attitudes on marijuana have shifted, gave two traffickers sentences much shorter than prosecutors requested.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar said federal sentencing guidelines that treat marijuana as seriously as heroin and other hard drugs are outmoded, The Baltimore Sun reported. He cited the Obama administration's decision to recognize the legalization of medical marijuana in many states as well as the recent votes in Colorado and Washington to allow recreational use of the drug.

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"It's indisputable that the offense is not regarded with the same seriousness it was 20 or 30 years ago when the sentencing guidelines ... which are still in use, were promulgated," Bredar said Monday.

Scott Russell Segal, 32, of Middlesex, N.J., who faced eight to 11 years in federal prison under the guidelines, received a sentence of almost five years. Bredar gave Steven Madden, 43, who faced 33 to 41 months an 18-month term.

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Prosecutors said Segal, who pleaded guilty to trafficking charges, was a key player in a marijuana smuggling operation with links to California, New Jersey and Maryland. Madden admitted selling marijuana on the side while running a flea market business and acknowledged he was aware of the drug smuggling group.

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Bredar also rejected defense lawyers' requests for much shorter sentences or house arrest.

"No state has legalized or seems ready to legalize the sort of actions these defendants were involved in," the judge told Segal's lawyer. "If what your client and co-defendants did wasn't a significant violation of federal drug laws, then marijuana is effectively legal. And it's not, regardless of what the people of two states have decided."

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