U.S. Attorney General: It’s Time for Drug Sentencing Reform

Conceding that the decades-old war on drugs has had unintended consequences and led to the “decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color,” the U.S. Attorney General said it’s time for a major drug sentencing overhaul.
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Our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers understand Holder’s remarks were made during a recent interview with NPR in which the reporter asked about his current and future priorities. While Holder discussed issues of national security and voting rights, he also said that, in his view, far too many people had been jailed for too long and for reasons that didn’t make good sense.

He clarified that he was primarily referring to those serving long sentences for non-violent, drug-related crimes.

Holder’s support of sentencing reform comes on the heels of the recent introduction of several bipartisan proposals that would empower judges to chop prison time for certain kinds of offenses. Some of the measures suggest doing away with minimum mandatory sentences altogether for certain crimes.

Holder said his office has had a team of federal attorneys working quietly for the last several months at the U.S. Justice Department on a series of proposals regarding sentencing reform that he might soon present to the American Bar Association.

Some of the proposals have already been made public, and they include actions that Holder could potentially enact on his own without legislative approval. For example, he could instruct federal prosecutors not to pursue low-level drug crimes. He could also direct an increase of funds to help drug defendants receive treatment, as opposed to hefty prison sentences.

Almost half of the nearly 220,000 people currently serving time in federal prison are there for some type of drug-related offense.

Holder said it’s time that enforcement priorities change. In order to do that on a broader scale, he said the cooperation of the judicial, executive and legislative branches of government will be critical. He wants to gain the approval of all three before moving forward on some of the more sweeping sentencing reform measures.

One measure that could bring all three together is one proposed by a Democrat from Illinois and a Republican from Utah. It’s called the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013, and it would allow judges a greater amount of discretion in the sentences they hand out for non-violent criminals. Mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug-related crimes would also be slashed under the law, which in turn would reduce problems that California and several other states have had regarding prison overcrowding. (At the national level, estimates are that the prison system is operating at nearly 40 percent over capacity.)

In a letter to the U.S. Sentencing Commission last month, Justice Department Officials indicated that the way we view incarceration on the whole needs to be reevaluated. Budgets are finite and prisons have power that should only be used sparingly. The ultimate goal, officials say, should be to reduce rates of recidivism and successfully reintroduce people back into society.

As it now stands, violent crimes are lower than ever, yet federal prison costs consume more than a fourth of the Justice Department’s entire budget.

Of course, while all of this sounds very good, making it a reality is something we don’t expect will happen over night.

If such efforts are successful, it would be the first major push toward sentencing reform since the response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
With Holder In The Lead, Sentencing Reform Gains Momentum, Aug. 7, 2013, By Carrie Johnson, NPR
More Blog Entries:
Congress Called to Investigate DEA for Investigatory Abuses, Aug. 11, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog