Eric Holder Deescalates The Drug War

Changes in government policy often occur far too slowly. One of the reasons I supported Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was suggestions that he might be willing to pull back on the drug war, as well as ending the war in Iraq. The first term was very disappointing with regards to drug policy. Today we finally saw signs that, while far less than I would like to see, the Obama administration is moving in the right direction. From The New York Times:

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

This is a long way from what I would like to see, but much closer to what I thought might plausible occur under Obama. Hopefully this will be followed by an end to the raids of medical marijuana facilities, and ideally a move towards either decriminalization or legalization. There is hope that a coalition between Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans might also bring about long term legislative change, which is preferable over a decision from one administration to selectively avoid longer sentences. It is even the fiscally responsible thing to do.

We have seen how quickly the attitude towards restrictions on marriage equality is changing. Attitudes on drug laws might be the next to change.

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