Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reportedly at work drafting a memo to change the course of federal drug prosecution. Namely he wants to reverse the current policy of going easy on minor, nonviolent drug offenses to instead put anybody in prison for as long as he possibly can.
Back when former Attorney General Eric Holder and former President Obama were in office, they instated measures which aimed to reduce the number of mandatory minimum drug sentences. In particular, 2013’s “Smart on Crime” initiative expressly discouraged federal prosecutors from seeking harsh sentences for nonviolent, low-level drug crimes.
The initiative was largely successful. With the help of other Obama-era policies, like new sentencing guidelines and a clemency program, the program reduced the number of federal inmates by 14 percent to 190,000 from 2013 until now, and thus substantially shrank the largest prison population in the history of human civilization. The program was pleasing on both sides of the aisle, making liberals happy by releasing human beings from captivity and making conservatives happy because it saved the boatload of money it took to prosecute and incarcerate those human beings.
But now the days of not putting people in prison for long periods of time just because you can seem to be numbered. The Justice Department is drafting a memo which would offer new guidelines for drug prosecutions. In the words of the Associated Press, the memo “would encourage prosecutors to charge suspects with the most serious offenses they can prove.”
The memo is still in the drafting stage, but, while it may not specifically mention mandatory sentences, the “most serious offenses they can prove” would in many cases be that mandatory minimum for certain quantities of drugs. In addition, the Washington Post says the DOJ is tossing around the idea of encouraging “enhancements” in sentencing, meaning those with a prior felony drug offense could get even longer than the mandatory minimums.
The crimes these new guidelines target could legally include ones involving marijuana. In fact they could legally include ones involving medical marijuana, especially considering that President Trump just said that he doesn’t feel he has to honor medical marijuana protections outlined in the recent congressional budget.
For his part, Sessions says his motivations for turning back the hands of time on progressive sentencing guidelines is his “focus on keeping Americans safe” (according to DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores), arguing that shying away from mandatory minimums weakens law enforcement by limiting the pressure they can put on criminal suspects to cooperate.
Meanwhile, former Attorney General Holder has a different spin on things. His spokesman Matthew Miller told the Washington Post that the new administration was making very clear “who it cares about and who it doesn’t.” “If you are addicted to opiates, you’ll get White House attention and increased treatment options,” Miller said. “If you get picked up with crack in your pocket, you’ll get jail time and a mandatory minimum.