Obama Begins To Undo The Drug War?

It couldn’t be true, could it? Nicole Flatow summarizes Holder’s announcement:

Holder will order all federal prosecutors to avert drug charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences for low-level offenders, by omitting the quantity of drugs when charges are filed, according to excerpts of the speech obtained by the New York Times. The measure, which would avert harsh sentences that start at five or ten years in prison regardless of an individual’s role in a drug offense and cannot be reduced by judges, is one of several Holder may announce today at an address to the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Ambers sees this as only a first step:

Of a million things President Obama could use his second term in office to fix, he has maybe 10 slots — 10 real chances to advance the debate about a topic, even to advance policy, even while Washington is at its sclerotic worst. Drug law reform has always been on the president’s to-do list. This I know from a series of conversations with some of his senior policy advisers during the first term.

Matt Welch thinks that “this has the makings of a key moment in beginning to undo the disastrous war on drugs”:

An important test going forward will be public opinion in the next couple of days, particularly from quarters that have historically been “tough on crime.” My prediction, and fervent hope, is that there won’t be much opposition at all. Then the real work of drug-war reform—including, hopefully, an announcement from Holder that the administration will no longer be raiding state-legal marijuana operations—can begin.

Dana Liebelson expects the reforms to save taxpayers money:

Based on how Republicans have reacted to sentencing reform efforts in the past; it shouldn’t take long for conservative lawmakers to start spreading the word that the sky is falling. But as we reported last week, sentence reductions have already been retroactively applied to crack cocaine offenders—and  the US Sentencing Commission has found the program to be a success. At least 7,300 prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimums have had their sentences reduced by an average of 29 months, saving taxpayers an estimated $530 million. Given that the Associated Press found that US federal prisons are 40 percent over capacity, advocates say reform can’t come soon enough.

But Joyner is uncomfortable with the way these reforms are being implemented:

Holder and I are in fundamental agreement on what our policy should be. If anything, I’d like to go further, decriminalizing whole categories of behavior and shifting into a treatment and education rather than criminal justice approach. But it should be accomplished by the president taking his case to the public and getting the law changed, not an imperial executive deciding it doesn’t have to enforce the law.

“Imperial” is not an adjective I’d attach to an administration refusing to keep nonviolent drug-offenders in jail for ever. But, yes, this would be better done legislatively. But if that means it will not get done at all because of the opposition’s unprecedented obstruction of a re-elected president, a president will consult his legal, executive branch options. Prosecutorial discretion is an exercize of legitimate power, not a new power-grab.