The world will have to wait no longer to find out how President Trump and his Attorney General will address drugs and the growing tension between state and federal law on the matter. This week U.S. Attorney General Sessions released a memo to all federal prosecutors – it is a full-scale rejection of the previous policy which argued that low-level, non-violent drug users should not be subject to a full court press from the federal government. President Trump’s Justice Department will now work hard to ensure that non-violent drug users serve mandatory minimum sentences.
Since his confirmation, we have been waiting to see how the Trump administration will address the war on drugs. President Trump, a famous teetotaler, has talked enough on both sides of the marijuana issue, that analysts couldn’t really determine if he would be a drug warrior or not. With more states legalizing marijuana all the time (Vermont’s legislature passed a legalizing statute on Wednesday), and consequently more and more people and capital are brought from the underground economy into the light, these issues become more consequential, and existentially so, for many.
Sessions has said before and many have noted, “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
Now, if the drugs themselves don’t do it, the federal government will try. What was the previous guidance that had to be corrected and reversed to right the ship of justice? Here’s language from the Obama/Holder Justice Department memo that Sessions singled out for revocation:
[W]e now refine our charging policy regarding mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. We must ensure that our most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers. In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancement statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution. Long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Moreover, rising prison costs have resulted in reduced spending on criminal justice initiatives, including spending on law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and prevention and intervention programs. These reductions in public safety spending require us to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.
As we learn from the Washington Post:
Holder’s changes came in August 2013 during a growing push among lawmakers and civil rights groups to roll back the strict charging and sentencing policies created in the 1980s and 1990s at the height of the war on drugs. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was one of the sponsors of bipartisan criminal-justice legislation that would have reduced some of the mandatory minimum sentences for gun and drug crimes — a bill that Sessions opposed and helped derail.
“As a proponent of criminal justice reform, I continue to believe that ending mandatory minimum sentences will actually make it easier to focus on violent crimes which impact our communities,” Paul said last week in a statement to The Post.
We know drug abuse can be devastating to the point of death. So, can aggressive prohibition. On Tuesday, the International Institute for Strategic Studies issued its annual survey of armed conflict. “Mexico’s drug wars claimed 23,000 lives during 2016 — second only to Syria, where 50,000 people died as a result of the civil war.”