Drug Warriors in Retreat

At least when it comes to low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, both parties have lost their appetite for locking the cell and tossing the key.

When it comes to Eric Holder, Republicans are divided between the radicals and the moderates. One group regards him as a lawless black power zealot intent on subverting the Constitution and stripping us of our liberties. Then there are the radicals...

So when Holder gave a speech announcing that the Justice Department would minimize the use of stiff mandatory sentences in some drug cases, it was reasonable to expect a storm of protests from Republicans accusing him of flooding our streets with crack dealers and meth heads.

Instead, the response bordered on the soporific. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, reported Politico, gently suggested that the administration "work with Congress on policies it wants to implement instead of consistently going around it." Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who has previously called for criminal prosecution of Holder, echoed Cruz's view, while admitting that "reducing mandatory minimums may be good policy."

Instead of tepid criticism, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky offered outright praise, calling the change "a welcome development." Hardly anyone in the GOP cared to defend the merciless approach. At least when it comes to low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, both parties have lost their appetite for locking the cell and tossing the key.

The drug war has often been called another Vietnam -- an expensive, destructive and losing campaign that has gone on far too long because politicians couldn't admit error. Vietnam eventually did come to an end. Holder's new policy may not actually affect many cases -- the Justice Department so far has been unable to come up with a number. But it offers the latest indicator that the drug war will, as well.

Americans were already inching toward the exits. Last year, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Several other states are likely to have ballot initiatives in 2016. Twenty-one permit medical use of cannabis.
Sixteen have decriminalized pot use. No one shows any powerful desire to reverse the tide.

Even many conservatives who have no use for legalization see the need for a different approach. In 2010, some of them founded the group Right on Crime, which favors a drug policy based less on punishment and more on rehabilitation.

In the old days, a person who took that view was called a "liberal" or perhaps a "hippie." That many leading Republican officeholders have embraced it suggests that the logic of the anti-drug crusade has lost its persuasive power.

Marc Levin, policy director of Right on Crime, which is affiliated with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, believes this new approach fits with conservative principles like "limited government, personal responsibility, and recognition that people can change and be redeemed."

In an email, he said, "The research and experiences in many states have demonstrated that it is possible to both enhance public safety and reduce costs to taxpayers by redirecting many low-risk, low-level drug possession offenders into alternatives to incarceration that hold them accountable, break their habit, and enable them to hold down a job and be productive."

Texas, he says, has sharply reduced the number of drug offenders in lockup and saved $2 billion by closing prisons instead of building them. But the crime rate is lower than it's been since 1968. Republican governors in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio have pushed similar reforms.

Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor and author of "When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment," notes that one of the founders of Right on Crime was Newt Gingrich. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he marvels, Mitt Romney hit Gingrich on many issues, "but he never hit him on that. He obviously didn't think it was a vulnerability -- in a Republican primary."

The 2012 party platform, in fact, endorsed "new approaches to curbing drug abuse and diverting first-time offenders to rehabilitation."

Chronic failure has a way of changing minds. For all the resources poured into drug law enforcement in the last three decades, drugs remain widely available. In April, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana -- up from 16 percent in 1990.

As Kleiman told me, "The agitated delirium about drugs and crime that has gripped this country since the 1970s is finally going away." Even a drug-induced haze can't last forever.

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  • ||

    Can someone please photoshop this photo so he's holding a fat one ad exhaling? Thanks in advance

  • Ted S.||

    Can somebody include the photo on this page and not just the front page of H&R? I generally visit H&R with only cached images set to load, and i fI try to right-click and load a photo on the main page, I only get some file called grey.gif (it's such an abomination they can't even spell "gray" correctly).

    And include height and width dimensions in the HTML for the images, too.

  • JWatts||

    This!

  • MappRapp||

    Roll that beautiful bean footage!

    www.Prime-Anon.tk

  • Almanian!||

    More like "roll that fat blunt", amiritie, PrimeBot?

  • Floridian||

    Grrr. Holder is not talking about mercy. He is talking about increasing his power. He only wants the ability to apply the law selectively. "You have a drug charge? Let me look at your campaign donation history. Nope I don't see any contributions to Democrats so I'm gonna have to hit you with the mandatory minimum."

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have to admit that that was my refection ,too. In my case, I simply think it a typical Progressive pattern to leave the law on the books, and allow the State the power to enforce it selectively.

  • sarcasmic||

    Progressives are amazingly regressive in their efforts to retreat from any semblance of rule of law where the laws apply equally to everyone, and go back to arbitrary rule of man like the dictatorships and tyrannies of old.

  • Floridian||

    That is what is really scary. They openly state now that they want to ignore the laws of the land in exchange for the executive to have a free hand. The executive is SUPPOSE to have its hands tied. That is why we have coequal branches of government. Again, Grrr.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yeah? Well how do you think the executive is supposed to get things done with the obstructionist Republicans blocking good legislation? I mean, just the other day the president said in a speech that the Republican platform consists of taking healthcare away from thirty million Americans! And he's supposed to work with monsters like that when he can just circumvent them with executive orders and executive departments? Fuck!

  • JWatts||

    "Progressives are amazingly regressive in their efforts to retreat from any semblance of rule of law where the laws apply equally to everyone, and go back to arbitrary rule of man "

    Rule of man by a Progressive is Progressive, of course. See 44th President of the US.

  • wareagle||

    Holder's words, like those of his boss, are usually at odds with his actions.

  • AlgerHiss||

    “….regards him as a lawless black power zealot…”

    I stopped right there and did not waste any more of my time reading this piece.

    Chapman, you know full well they hate his guts, but it has NOTHING to do with his freak’n skin color. I come here for a bit of intellect, not this sort of juvenile, racialist drivel.

    I hate Jesse Jackson but love Thomas Sowell. I despise Sharpton, but would love to live next door to Walter Williams. I puke at the thought of Sheila Jackson Lee but would want my kids to marry into Mia Love’s family.

    Do you begin to see a pattern here, Chapman? HUH? Do you?

  • anon||

    I read it as "black power" zealot, not black "power zealot."

    Does that make me racist?

  • Almanian!||

    If you're not black, then that makes you racist, however you read anything.

    hth

  • Whahappan?||

    He's talking about how some Republicans view him. Reading comprehension fail.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Well, you have to understand, it's Steve Chapman we're talking about here. Any favorable comments toward Republicans HAVE to be matched with attacks.

  • Number 2||

    "So when Holder gave a speech announcing that the Justice Department would minimize the use of stiff mandatory sentences in some drug case..."

    Can you please stop quoting the speech and actually look at the Memorandum itself? Admittedly it is hard to find but I gave you all a link yesterday. The reality falls short of the rhetoric.

    Seriously, did you guys learn nothing from the October 2009 Ogden Memorandum on medical marijuana enforcement?

  • ||

    Last year, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. ... In April, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time ever, a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana -- up from 16 percent in 1990.

    Government is always a great avenue for social change and improvement, once the ideas in question become popular enough not to need it.

    At some future time, the government will be praised for ending the horrible stigma and punishments forced on drug users, by legalizing drugs.

  • Jake345||

    lol..knew the article had to be from intellectual lightweight Chapman or Nick G

  • JWatts||

    Chapman is not so much an intellectual light weight, as he is a partisan. He's not necessarily a strict Democratic partisan, but he does show a distinct Leftward mood affiliation that taints his articles with an obvious bias.

    He's probably the most obviously biased regular columnist for Reason.

  • Anomalous||

    Is that the going rate now for tentacle porn?

  • Jose Chung||

    mmmm.... hentai

  • Jose Chung||

    I have a theory as to why the DOJ has decided to do this "unilaterally" instead of taking the matter up with Congress:

    If something proposed by the Obama Administration is taken up by Congress and passed with bi-partisan support, it hurts the narrative that the Republicans are trying to obstruct the President's agenda at every turn. Making it a matter of prosecutorial discretion also leaves existing law on the books to be used arbitrarily against those deemed worthy of exceptional punishment, for whatever reason.

    The House should pass sentencing reform on their return and send it to the Senate for consideration. Let's see how far it goes in the Democratically controlled Senate and whether the President will sign it into law.

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  • Larakris||

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