After more than 20 years of the war on drugs, more than a dozen U.S. states are reducing penalties for many drug offences.
The move away from mandatory minimum sentences without any chance of parole comes as states struggle to cover the costs of overcrowded prisons in the midst of tough economic times.
Republicans and Democrats alike have also recognized weaknesses in their tough-on-crime, one-size-fits-all sentences.
That's different from Canada, where the Conservative government has started toughening sentencing and imposing mandatory minimums for a number of crimes.
Lt. Richard Santangelo, who joined the Belmont, Mass., police force at the age of 18, says he's noticed a changing environment when it comes to the war on drugs.
"Most police officers are fairly conservative and we want to see people go away for a lot of time but we're also realists," Santangelo said.
The reality is Massachusetts' prisons are at 140 per cent capacity. It costs the state roughly $50,000 a year for each of its 11,000 inmates. That's why Santangelo says he's reluctantly open to sentencing reforms.
"The prisons are so overcrowded right now, most of them, if we can free up a little space for the more hardcore drug offences, it might be what we have to do."
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has introduced a bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offences and shrink drug-free school zones from 300 metres to 30. People caught dealing drugs in that radius would face an automatic two years in jail.
In Belmont, Santangelo says a lot of people get caught up in that net.
"Unfortunately, if you look at the design of the town and the number of schools out there, it's such a small town with such a large number of schools, a lot of the town is a drug-free school zone."
Will Brownsberger, the Democrat representative for Belmont and a former state assistant attorney general, has published research about drug-free school zones.
"The idea of a school zone is a place that should be especially safe," he said. "But if you define very broad school zones, then basically any place that anybody might deal drugs is a school zone with the result that they don't have any incentive to stay away from schools."
Brownsberger's research shows no difference in the density of drug deals near schools or farther away. He says school zones just create mandatory minimums that basically apply to most territory in most cities........