Civil Liberties

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

"We have spent...hundreds of billions of dollars on this so called 'war on drugs.' Well, we've lost."


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.