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Holder Calls for Sentencing Reform in War on Drugs

It sounds difficult to believe coming from the Attorney General of the USA, and given that federal agencies and local police in many parts of the country keep up ritual raids and arrests of pot smokers, but here it is.

During an interview on the NPR on Wednesday, Eric Holder said, “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old … There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

The attorney general has a team of lawyers in the DOJ working for months on proposals on sentencing reform, and Holder is expected to mention the proposals in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, next week.

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According to statistics, close to half of the 219,000 people currently in federal prisons are serving time on drug charges.

So, Holder is now spearheading sentencing reforms and might direct U.S. attorneys not to prosecute low-level drug crimes, or to send defendants into treatment rather than to prisons.

But he admits it’s easier said than done. Holder said that the DOJ can change its enforcement priorities: “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together to look at this whole issue and come up with changes that are acceptable to both.”

Getting the executive and the legislative together and work out solutions, of course, usually takes years, or until next election.

However, things seem to have started moving and last week, two senators, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Utah Republican Mike Lee, started promoting a bill called the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 – a law to lower mandatory minimums for several drug crimes and reduce overcrowding in a prison system working 40 percent beyond its capacity.

However, Republican Rand Paul and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy are moving their own bill – the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which focuses on giving judges more power to impose lower sentences in cases of all crimes, and not just drug crimes.

Leahy sounded enthusiastic during the C-SPAN Newsmakers program on Sunday: “Doing away with mandatory minimums, giving more discretion to judges, that shouldn’t be Republican or Democrat …, it just makes good sense.”

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