Attorney General Eric Holder is moving quickly to align federal drug enforcement policy with the Administration’s goals he described earlier this month. In a speech before the American Bar Association, Holder denounced the nation’s massive incarceration rate, especially in regards to non-violent offenders. Prison should be to "punish, deter and to rehabilitate, not to merely warehouse and forget," he stressed.
Much of his criticism was aimed at the War on Drugs, especially in light of numerous states having legalized marijuana for either medical or personal use. Yesterday he posted a memo to federal prosecutors, telling them to immediately stop filing drug charges against casual marijuana users and low-level dealers, but instead focus on drug traffickers, those who provide marijuana to minors, and people who use marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity.
Holder personally called the governors of Washington and Colorado, which have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The new marijuana policy is not limited to those states, however -- all federal prosecutors have been told to limit drug charges involving marijuana to major players.
"Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time," reads a statement posted on the Department of Justice’s website.
In an effort to move the issue forward, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said earlier this week that he intended to call Holder to Capitol Hill and find out exactly how the Justice Department was planning to do in states where marijuana is legal for at least some purposes. Although states have the right to legalize marijuana in their own jurisdictions, the drug remains prohibited under federal law.
It’s a good start. We’ll have to wait and see, however, whether Holder’s memo actually signals a change in federal marijuana enforcement policy -- and whether Iowa and the other states where the drug remains illegal intend to follow suit.
- The Two-Way, NPR News blog, "Federal Prosecutors Told Not To Focus On Marijuana Users," Mark Memmott, Aug. 29, 2013
- The Two-Way, NPR News blog, " Holder Decries 'Draconian Mandatory Minimum Sentences'," Mark Memmott, Aug. 12, 2013