Eric Holder and Drug Policy

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Obama’s selection of federal prosecutor Eric Holder to serve as attorney general has provoked concern among reformers, namely due to Holder’s calls for increased marijuana enforcement and harsher sentences in Washington, D.C. during the mid-90’s.

U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the D.C. Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana.

"We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling. [Washington Post]

There’s nothing good to be said about that, but it’s incomplete in terms of giving us a sense of what Holder’s overall drug policy priorities may be. 3 years later, Holder was sounding a bit more reasonable on the issue of drug sentencing:

QUESTION: In the last couple of weeks there has been renewed dialogue about mandatory minimum sentences. Some conservative groups and some traditionally thought of as liberal groups are both saying that the mandatory minimums are not working, they are filling jails unnecessarily. Is the administration fairly well satisfied that mandatory minimums are good idea? Or will you try -- will this administration try again in the coming Congress to take another look at mandatory minimums?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I do not think that we should ever foreclose the possibility that we take a look at how the laws that we have passed are working. I tend to think that mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things. I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask.

I do not go into it with a presumption that they're necessarily bad, but we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences?

Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask. And as thinking legislators on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, I would hope that we would ask those questions and then go into it with an open mind.

Almost a decade later, the disastrous consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing are more evident than ever and even notorious drug warriors like Joe Biden have pushed drug war posturing aside to begin addressing the problem. As the political landscape surrounding drug sentencing continues to evolve, Holder’s "open mind" along with Obama’s concerns about over-incarceration of non-violent drug offenders could provide a positive climate for sentencing reform.

Beyond that, we just don’t have a great deal of evidence to draw upon. I haven’t seen any public statements from Holder regarding medical marijuana and other top drug policy reform issues. Realistically, it may be a best-case scenario that we’re faced with a long-time U.S. attorney who appears viable and at least lacks a lengthy track record of drug war grandstanding. The totality of Holder’s scary drug policy demagoguery potentially falls far short of what we might hear from others with his background. Silence on most of our issues is arguably the best reformers can hope for when it comes to selecting the next head of the DOJ.

At this point, I know nothing about Eric Holder that would indicate opposition to the drug policy reforms Obama endorsed on the campaign trail. Holder enters office fully cognizant of Obama’s perspective on the war on drugs and I remain hopeful that he’ll become a critical figure in moving forward the reforms we’ve been told to expect from this administration.
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Let's Wait and See before we Call

I think it is very interesting that Obama has chosen some harsh drug warriors. On the surface, Biden scares the hell out of reformers because of his staunch drug war policies. And now this with Holder. And yet an Obama administration has been shouting change.

Who better to change direction in the draconian drug laws than the ones who created them in the first place. This seems like it would hold large credibility with the undecided masses. I see no chance of conspiracy hemp/hippy activists being the leaders of this change. If Obama uses liberal drug war reformers, he might seem a bit too radical with any change. But a popular guy who says lock them up one in the past, has a better chance of explaining the errors in prohibition to the antagonists.

An Obama Presidency might prove groundbreaking from the least likely sources. Or an Obama Presidency might prove to be a newly packaged: "more of the same." In my opinion, bold moves toward cannabis decriminalization or even legalization, might be too risky for America's first Black President. Then again Obama could surprise everybody; and this surprise might be a major step toward economic reforms.

Tell them

Finally a sight you can tell your government your vision of America. For reformars or anyone that sees a need in change, here is the place to do it at Obama knows the power of the internet, thats how he got in and he will take note.

Tell them

Here is the sight= www.change.gov/page/s/yourvision.

Saddened by Obama... and he's not even in yet

Like many, I drank the Kool Aid of "change" put forth by candidate Obama.

I hoped for justice in the Middle East and for the long-suffering people of Palestine. Obama has appointed Rahm Emanuel, the son of murderer and terrorist Benjamin M. Emanuel, who participated in the Deir Yassin massacre (Wikipedia it if you're not familiar) where hundreds of men, women, children and pregnant women were openly slaughtered. Rahm Emanuel even served in the Israeli military. How often do leaders of one country have military service for another country on their resume? Good luck with justice in Palestine - we've got a zealot whispering in Obama's ear. I guess Obama felt he needed to kowtow to the existing power groups in the USA.

I hoped for some reform to the policies of mass-incarceration of non violent drug offenders. We have 2.1 million people in prison in the USA, the majority (64%) of whom are nonviolent drug offenders. And most of whom (71%) are black men. Utter insanity. And now Obama has appointed Eric Holder as his AG and picked Biden as VP - two "drug war zealots" who want to INCREASE mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders.

McCain make me sick and apparently Obama's no better. Guess it's Canada after all. I wish I were kidding.

Thomas Lee Elifritz

I think that it's so wonderful that we will have an attorney general that will now prosecute marijuana possession as felonies, in order to put ever more nonviolent marijuana offenders in our already overcrowded prisons, so that mainstream media can profit from ever more endless weekend prison documentaries. America is so just, so compassionate. Prosecuting harmless personal choices is so profitable and good for the new fascist America. We need to continue the policies of George Bush, and Eric Holder is just the way to do that.

Leading causes of annual drug deaths in America :

Tobacco : 435,000

Alcohol : 85,000

Marijuana 0

comments on previous posts

'Let's wait and see' is exactly right that if Obama wanted to make a big change in drug policy, the best people to do it would be chastened drug warriors like Biden and Holder. I don't think they're chastened enough yet, but as 'tell them' says, we need to use the internet to push them to take a serious look at what our drug policies have done for us and to us.
I don't have great expectations for Obama, but I expect him to keep his word on medicinal marijuana and hopefully increase funding for MMJ research and to put more emphasis on drug treatment over jail.
And hopefully be more willing to honestly discuss the drug war, although I don't see how anyone can honestly discuss alcohol vs. cannabis without realizing that alcohol is far more dangerous to life and limb, and I don't think his team is going to be willing to admit that, which means they're going to have to stonewall on the subject.
Well, if I were a stubborn emperor without any clothes (of justice), I would hide behind a stonewall too. But I really like justice, and hate violence, so I'll keep blasting away at their damn stone wall.
T.L.E., I like your post too.

A Small World

http://freedomofmedicineanddiet.blogspot.com/2009/01/holder-breuer.html

Do you think that these candidates from Covington & Burling which advised DPF will somehow help drug policy reform?

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