Leahy Slams War on Pot, Promises Forensics and Sentencing Reform in Georgetown Speech

In a Wednesday speech at the Georgetown University Law Center, Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) laid out what his committee will focus on in the 113th Congress. Here's the short version: Immigration reform, guns, increased funding for first responders, forensic reform, the Violence Against Women Act, privacy, mandatory minimums, government transparency, and weed. 

Once again, Leahy hinted that he's willing to be a thorn in President Obama's side, should the president disregard the will of voters in Colorado and Washington.

"I have a real concern for states' rights," Leahy said, adding

I am concerned that just because marijuana is illegal under federal law, that we're just going to ignore what states do and send law enforcement in there to enforce the federal law...I hate to see a great deal of law enforcement resources spent on things like the possession and use of marijuana when we have murder cases, armed robbery cases, things like that that go unsolved... It was also my feeling as a prosecutor. I found more important things to do... We have spent...hundreds of billions of dollars on this so called 'war on drugs.' Well, we've lost.

Leahy deviated from his prepared remarks (which you can read here, and watch here) to comment on marijuana policy. The statement was reminiscent of the letter he sent Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske last month, in which he asked

How does the Office of National Drug Control Policy intend to prioritize Federal resources, and what recommendations are you making to the Department of Justice and other agencies in light of the choice by citizens of Colorado and Washington to legalize personal use of small amounts of marijuana?

What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face Federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?

In light, perhaps, of a spate of recent scandals--the newest of which you can read about in Radley Balko's latest investigation into the monstrously awful forensic analysis of Mississippi's Steven Hayne and Michael West--Leahy also spoke of reforming forensics.

"We must forge improvements that far more effectively identify and convict people guilty of crimes," Leahy's prepared marks read, "while avoiding the too-common tragedy of convicting the innocent." 

In addition, Leahy's committee will examine the "fiscal issues related to our high rate of imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences to make sure that we are conserving law enforcement resources, while prioritizing approaches that most effectively reduce crime and target violent offenders."

Deviating from his prepared remarks, Leahy repeated his belief that federal enforcement of anti-marijuana laws are a waste of resources, and that states should be allowed to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference:

H/T to the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell

UPDATE: Here's another line from Leahy's speech that Think Progress caught

There are too many people, too many young people, too many minorities, too many from the inner city who are serving time in jail for people who might have done the same thing but have the money to stay out and are not there. What I say is if you have a youngster in the inner city buying $100 worth of cocaine for example could end up going to prison for years. If you have somebody on Wall Street buying the same 100 dollars from their local dealer, if they’re caught, they’ll be reprimanded and they may even have to do on Park Avenue a week of public service. That’s not right.

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  • Tman||

    Kudos to Leahy. I don't believe him when he says he will stand up to Obama but the thought is nice.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "I have a real concern for states' rights," Leahy said

    Oh really, and this will extend to what other areas, Senator Scumbag?

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    See, if you want a state to provide for more abortion rights or marriage rights or speech rights or whatever than the federal government, that's peachy. Want the same for gun rights and you're a child-hating crypto-murderer.

  • ||

    State's rights for drugs, but not for guns. Real consistent.

  • ||

    I take that back a bit. I'm not as sure what he means by guns here, since his record on the matter is mixed.

  • Zeb||

    And he is from VT, which has pretty much the least restrictive gun laws of any state. Though I did hear him make a stupid comment about high-cap magazines, saying that deer rifles were limited to 5 shots before you need to reload, so why not ban larger magazines.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Leahy hinted that he's willing to be a thorn in President Obama's side, should the president disregard the will of voters in Colorado and Washington.

    Willing, but not inclined. Anyway, I doubt Leahy is even on Obama's radar.

  • ||

    Hmmm. A democrat with half a brain and half a conscience?

    I am skeptical, but if it turns out to be true this guy will be purged from the party.

  • ||

    Yeah. He seems to have some support of gun control (mostly the stuff already in place), but still seems more reluctant than most. I've already seen some stuff that worries he will slow down consideration of the proposals. Apparently his record's a bit more mixed than most Dems.

    Here's his record from ontheissues.org:

    Voted YES on allowing firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains. (Apr 2009)
    Voted YES on prohibiting foreign & UN aid that restricts US gun ownership. (Sep 2007)
    Voted NO on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers. (Jul 2005)
    Voted NO on banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers for gun violence. (Mar 2004)
    Voted YES on background checks at gun shows. (May 1999)
    Voted NO on more penalties for gun & drug violations. (May 1999)
    Voted NO on loosening license & background checks at gun shows. (May 1999)
    Voted YES on maintaining current law: guns sold without trigger locks. (Jul 1998)
    Rated C by the NRA, indicating a mixed voting record on gun rights. (Aug 2010)
    Allow veterans to register unlicensed guns acquired abroad. (Apr 2011)

  • Cytotoxic||

    He's still a breath of fresh air compared to his asshole colleagues. He's a long way from perfect and really he's barely good, but he's willing to think a bit and stray from the Borg Collective.

  • pmains||

    Voted NO on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers. (Jul 2005)
    Voted NO on banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers for gun violence. (Mar 2004)

    I'm fine with these. We shouldn't be carving out exemptions for specific businesses or industries. A more general approach would look at the poor reasoning behind these lawsuits and then start hemming in the courts. Not having read the law, maybe that's what it was attempting to do.

    I know, I know. Congress is infested with lawyers and that would never happen. Still, I don't see how cronyism is any more libertarian than allowing frivolous lawsuits against less politically powerful industries.

  • Gray Ghost||

    FWIW, here's Ron Paul's votes on similar issues when he was in the House. Probably for similar reasons to those pmains is talking about.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    I approve.

  • An0nB0t||

    You know...

    You remind me of my father. I hated my father!

  • Cytotoxic||

    THREADWINNER

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Still doesn't make up for his lifetime douchebaggery average.

  • Tim||

    "Leahy voted for a previous assault weapons ban in 1994 and for an unsuccessful attempt to extend it in 2004. He said a focus of his hearings would be to examine whether the expired ban worked.

    "One thing I'm going to ask people who testify is, 'Did it have an effect?'" he said. "

    http://7d.blogs.com/offmessage.....tails.html

  • ChrisO||

    Baby steps. I don't believe Leahy will actually move an inch away from Democratic orthodoxy, but at least he's making some encouraging mouth noises.

  • ||

    Pat may want to tread carefully when it comes to guns, given his state's tradition of gun ownership and almost completely nonexistent gun laws.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Patrick Leahy: Less douchey than much of the Senate. Still a douche.

  • ||

    Vermont's actually kind of an odd duck in these here United States. In spite of an influx of New York liberals it is still full of frugal Yankees that remind us that this was the one state that never gave its electoral votes to FDR (from memory - perhaps I am mistaken).

    OTOH, it appears that while they don't want to spend their own money they're perfectly willing to feed at the federal trough.

    This leaves VT's federal representatives in a tenuous position. They must not do anything that upsets the notions of Vermont's traditional freedoms while maximizing the flow of federal dollars (which supposedly come from other states, but in fact have to be borrowed, since, in fact, the other states do not have any more money than Vermont does).

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