Drug War

White House Seems Opposed to Drug War Reforms that Reduce Prosecutor Leverage

When mercy gets in the way of ambition.


They have ways of making you talk.
Credit: Photographing Travis / photo on flickr

In June, Jacob Sullum noted the introduction of the Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act by the bipartisan combo of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.). The SAFE Justice Act is intended to scale back some of the harshness of the drug war on the federal level, pushing mandatory minimum sentences toward high-level traffickers, increasing diversion options rather than prison sentences, and eliminating federal penalties for simple drug possession, leaving that to the states, among other changes.

While there is bipartisan support for sentencing reform, and President Barack Obama is calling for changes and commuting sentences of currently jailed drug offenders, BuzzFeed is reporting that the White House has problems with some of the contents of the SAFE Justice Act. If BuzzFeed's unnamed sources are accurate, the White House (or probably more accurately, the Department of Justice) is concerned that "safety valves" for low-level offenders would make it harder for prosecutors to intimidate them into service to help fight the bigger fights of the drug war:

BuzzFeed News learned that several weeks ago, during a closed-door meeting where members of the Obama administration were present, the White House was not enthusiastic about the most recent draft of the SAFE Act and expressed concerns around several of the bills provisions pertaining to sentencing for both first-time and repeat low-level drug offenders.

The changes would push many of those cases toward probation. In the past, prosecutors have been skeptical of this kind of change, saying it makes it harder for them to leverage fear of prison among low-level offenders to net bigger fish. Since that meeting, according to multiple sources, the administration has expressed its concerns about the bill in other closed-door venues.

Unfortunately the story doesn't get much more specific than that. Rep. Scott seems to think it's not a big deal and changes can be hammered out. The law is still being drafted.

But it is particularly telling that prosecutors' top concern is not what would be a just or appropriate response to low-level drug crimes and the people that get caught up in this brutal system, but how mercy could impact their ambitions at being big drug war heroes someday.

NEXT: Lindsey Graham Slams Presidential Debate Qualifications, Polling Cut-off

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Buzzfeed has breaking news stuff? WTF?

    1. They’ve been doing this a lot lately. I believe they broke the story on the ghost schools in Afghanistan too. It’ll be interesting to see if they keep it up or not.

    2. Yes, it seems like once every few months you get a legitimate article of sufficiently high article that you wonder why the hell the author has to resort to Buzzfeed to get published.

      1. Because it embarrasses Obama. Where is he going to go? the New York Times? LOLOL

    3. Buzzfeed has been using clickbait to pay for solid investigative journalism for a while now.

  2. That’s the problem with victimless crimes. You can’t pursue justice when no one has been harmed, so by default you must only pursue punishment and reeducation into a ‘model’ citizen.

    1. ^^THIS^^

  3. WHO the FUCK starts an acronym with the word that the first letter of the acronym FUCKING STANDS FOR

    1. How much time do you think they spend coming up with cute acronyms? And why are they so popular?

      1. Hell, half my time in boot camp (I’m sorry, reeducation camp) was learning all the different military acronyms.

    2. Hitler? I was told the answer is always Hitler.

      1. Hitler is the leader ever responsible

      1. BURN!

  4. Gotta break a few eggs to stop people from having fun in unapproved ways.

  5. Well prosecutors are the judicial foot soldiers of the executive branch, so uhhh maybe look elsewhere for some hot government on government limitation action.

  6. Liber. Tarian. MOMENT.

  7. They seem opposed? What does that mean? Is Buzzfeed lying? They are opposed judging from the evidence presented.

    1. I take that back, it is not like consistency is something associated with these people.


    2. “Seem” is my weasel word because BuzzFeed doesn’t really explicitly say what it is and instead refers to other known objections.

      1. Okay. I was really curious not trying to be a jerk.

  8. The changes would push many of those cases toward probation. In the past, prosecutors have been skeptical of this kind of change, saying it makes it harder for them to leverage fear of prison among low-level offenders to net bigger fish.

    Yeah or to get innocent people to plead guilty to lesser charges. They forgot to mention that part.

  9. Oh no, fewer plea bargains, more actual court cases. It’s a travesty of justice.

  10. These prosecutors plan to run for higher office some day. What do you expect them to stand on if not a stack of easy convictions?

    1. +1 fat bastard from NJ

  11. In the past, prosecutors have been skeptical of this kind of change, saying it makes it harder for them to leverage fear of prison among low-level offenders to net bigger fish.

    Just imagine how they’ll feel when even those bigger fish aren’t worried about prison, because the drug war is actually over!

    Oh, how I make myself laugh.

    1. Did you forget your meds again?

      1. well, she IS the worst

      2. Laughter is the best medicine, John.

        1. It is about all you can do.

  12. NYT alters story at Hillary’s request.


    1. After the hit pieces they were running on Rubio, that’s funny. I’m sure they offered the same courtesy to him.

      1. I am sure. The only good news is that the people running the Times seem to be some of the dumbest people in the media, which puts them in the running for being the dumbest people on earth.


        When Lehman asked Rosenthal to give his opinion on the “most ridiculous” Republican candidates in the race, Rosenthal named Donald Trump and “Ben Nelson.”

        “Everything Ben Nelson says is ridiculous,” said Rosenthal.

        Ben Nelson is not a Republican, nor is he running for president. In fact, he’s a former Democratic senator from Nebraska. Rosenthal was likely referring to Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned brain surgeon. Prior to jumping into the political sphere, Carson served as the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Rosenthal, the son of a communist-turned-neocon who served as executive editor of the New York Times for over a decade, received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Denver before eventually getting a job working at his father’s newspaper.

        1. He’s a D-Day truther? Holy hell.

          And obviously he’s returning to his daddy’s political roots.

  13. Not another ‘SAFE’ act, if they pass that, there will be confusion about which one I’m rambling about.

  14. Hrmmmm, prosecutors?you know where it is REALLY easy to get low-level people to name their management? The legal business world. Walk into a CVS, which sells drugs, “Who is your supervisor?”?THAT PERSON. I think there is a lesson there.

    (As an aside, about the HARDEST place in the non-black market world to get a low-level person to name their supervisor is in Law Enforcement. Coincidence?)

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.