U.S. Sentencing Commission Reviews MDMA Guidelines for First Time in 16 Years; Rick Doblin to Testify

PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Sentencing Commission Reviews MDMA Guidelines for First Time in 16 Years

Disparity between MDMA and marijuana sentencing is currently 500:1

Rick Doblin, MAPS Founder and Executive Director, to testify

Natalie Ginsberg, MAPS Policy and Advocacy Manager

UPDATE—MARCH 13, 2017: The USSC has postponed this public hearing until its next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, citing weather concerns.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) will hold a public hearing for the first time in 16 years to evaluate MDMA sentencing guidelines, which currently sit at a 500:1 sentencing disparity between MDMA and marijuana. The hearing will be streamed live.

Rick Doblin, Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) will testify. In 2001, Doblin testified at a similar hearing, where he warned that MDMA’s risks had been greatly exaggerated and that increasing penalties for MDMA would further burden legitimate research.

Despite Doblin’s testimony at the 2001 hearing, the USSC sharply increased sentences for MDMA, deciding that penalties for MDMA should be 500 times more severe than those for marijuana. This increased ratio produced a 115% increase in MDMA-related prison sentences, and increased the average prison sentence of an offender from 34 months to 73 months. In 2002, the “anti” RAVE (Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act, introduced by then-Senator Joe Biden, was passed. In recent years, MDMA use has spread more widely outside of the predominately white rave scene where it first grew popular for recreational use.

Doblin’s 18-page written statement (plus appendix), submitted for the March 15 Public Hearing on Alternatives to Incarceration Court Programs and Synthetic Drugs, outlines the origin of MDMA, following its journey from the lab and legal use in therapy to criminalization, and now to clinical trials for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions.

Courts have regularly found MDMA sentencing and scheduling to be excessive when provided with adequate research. When MDMA was initially scheduled in 1986, the DEA overruled two judicial decisions in order to place MDMA on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Since then, two federal courts have concluded that the MDMA guidelines need not be followed, in part because MDMA’s sentencing severity was found to be disproportional to MDMA’s actual harm.

“Based on a comprehensive review of peer-reviewed scientific research into the risks of MDMA published since the sentencing guidelines were increased in 2001, MAPS’ studies of the therapeutic potential of MDMA, and hundreds of anecdotes of self-healing from non-medical users of MDMA, it is abundantly clear that MDMA sentencing is egregiously disproportionate to its potential harms.” Doblin continues that he is “encouraged that the Sentencing Commission is reviewing the excessive penalties for MDMA and grateful for the opportunity to present the Commissioners with the latest scientific data in order to inform their decisions.”


CORRECTION: The original version of this release incorrectly stated that “the USSC sharply increased mandatory minimum sentences for MDMA.” There is no mandatory minimum sentence for MDMA. The above release has been corrected to clarify this error.