Drug War

Read Jeff Sessions' Utterly Illogical Defense of Tough Drug Sentences

The attorney general says there are no low-level, nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison.



Defending his new, tougher charging policy for drug offenders in The Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again declares that "drug trafficking is an inherently violent business." That claim has become a mantra for opponents of sentencing reform. But repeating it does not make it true. The violence associated with the distribution of currently banned drugs does not demonstrate that the business is inherently violent, any more than the violence associated with liquor distribution during alcohol prohibition showed that selling whiskey is inherently violent. The violence is a product of the prohibition policy that Sessions avidly supports, as he himself implicitly concedes in the next two sentences.

"If you want to collect a drug debt," Sessions writes, "you can't, and don't, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun." And why is it, exactly, that drug dealers cannot avail themselves of the same legal, peaceful methods of dispute resolution that today's alcohol merchants routinely use? Only because their business is illegal, as the booze business was from 1920 to 1933.

In case some of his readers have taken a course in economics and might therefore be reluctant to blame black-market violence on the product being sold rather than its legal status, Sessons tries another tack. "For the approximately 52,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose in 2015," he says, "drug trafficking was a deadly business." And for the 88,000 or so Americans who die as a result of alcohol abuse each year, liquor trafficking is a deadly business. That does not mean alcohol should be banned, let alone that alcohol dealers should be subject to the severest possible criminal penalties. If drug-related deaths were Sessions' real concern, he would not support a policy that magnifies the hazards of getting high by making potency unpredictable, encouraging dangerous and unsanitary modes of consumption, and impeding harm-reducing education on subjects such as the potentially lethal risks of mixing opioids with other depressants.

Before you can digest Session' second nugget of illogic, he is ready with another non sequitur. "Defenders of the status quo perpetuate the false story that federal prisons are filled with low-level, nonviolent drug offenders," he says. "The truth is less than 3 percent of federal offenders sentenced to imprisonment in 2016 were convicted of simple possession, and in most of those cases the defendants were drug dealers who accepted plea bargains in return for reduced sentences." Yet a drug dealer is not necessarily a high-level drug dealer, let alone a violent one, and even someone who participates in the distribution of large quantities may have played a minor role in the operation. The list of drug offenders who received commutations from President Obama provides many such examples. Sessons can deny the existence of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders in the federal system only by redefining those adjectives.

But Sessions is just getting started. Before Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new charging policy aimed at shielding certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders from mandatory minimum sentences, Sessions says, "the violent crime rate in the United States had fallen steadily for two decades, reaching half of what it was in 1991. Within one year after the Justice Department softened its approach to drug offenders, the trend of decreasing violent crime reversed. In 2015, the United States suffered the largest single-year increase in the overall violent crime rate since 1991." That's right: Sessions is attributing the 2015 increase in violent crime to a policy adopted in August 2013, a policy that may have resulted in shorter sentences for 500 or so federal drug offenders each year.

How would that have worked? Even if we assume that every drug offender who got relief under Holder's policy was a violent predator in disguise, there were not enough of them, and they would not have been free soon enough, to have any noticeable impact on the crime rate. Perhaps Sessions means that other criminals, taking note of the fact that some federal drug offenders who previously might have gotten five years in prison were now getting two or three years instead, were emboldened to commit violent crimes. That scenario is, if anything, less plausible.

According to Sessions, every federal drug offender is a violent kingpin who not only violates the government's arbitrary pharmacological taboos but poses an intolerable threat to the general public. As an old-fashioned drug warrior and tough-on-crime demagogue, the attorney general refuses to acknowledge distinctions among the wide variety of people the federal government puts behind bars every year. Without those distinctions, the criminal justice system cannot be cost-effective, and it cannot be just.

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  1. The attorney general says there are no low-level, nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison.

    Just like how there are no homosexuals in Iran… because the government there makes gay dudes cut their dicks off and live as women or else die in prison.

    1. Is that true? * squints * It sounds made up.

      1. * slaps forehead * The correct phrase is “narrows gaze”

  2. To be fair, Sessions does have a point when he says “drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.” Armed thugs kicking in your door, kidnapping you, and throwing you into a concrete fortress with a bunch of murderers and rapists is a risk assumed by anyone who traffics in drugs.

    1. The biggest and best liars build their lies around kernels of truth, removed from their proper context.

  3. Yesterday some 30 year DEA douchebag was on tv talking about how violent El Chapo was and I was screaming “Because of you, you fucking moron!” He was completely oblivious to his part in the violence. Asshole.

    1. I saw that motherfucker and wanted rip his heart out metaphorically speaking.

    2. Wouldn’t a great invention be that everyone screaming at their tvs were posted to a teleprompter for the person speaking on tv?

  4. The beer delivery truck cut me off in traffic this morning. Jeff Sessions speaks the truth.

  5. “…drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.”
    He is partly right.

    Never in US history have so many people been murdered, imprisoned and their constitutional rights violated since transporting drugs was made illegal.

    To prove these drug warriors are full of shit: If drugs were legal- imported, transported and sold like any other product there would be zero violence.

    Its government bans that make shortages of the demanded products and risk causes price to go up. Higher monetary value causes more incentive to use violence to gain that value.

    1. No one who supports the war on drugs intends for prohibition to create violence. They intend for people to obey the law and not use drugs. If people would only obey the law then there would be no violence. So the violence isn’t their fault. They didn’t intend it. It’s because of bad people with bad intentions. But not because of the drug warriors. They have good intentions.

      1. Good intentions are paved….

        Besides, when has prohibition ever worked? Not sex. Not alcohol. Not drugs. No pornography.

        1. Prohibition of murder doesn’t stop murder. You saying that murder should be legal since people are going to do it anyway? Ha!

          *drops mic*

          1. Go to the Chicago Tribune online and run a search on “dry killer.” There were thousands of cases of government goons shooting kids and their parents in the back–just like today.

          2. Specious. Drops mic.

            1. His name is ”sarcasmic”

      2. You are aware of that road to hell with its being paved with good intentions, right? So, individual action, in this case, that of the anterior right to one’s person, and the right to consume be it food, ideas, or drugs, is to be arbitrarily defined as either good (prescribed), or bad (proscribed) by the all good, all-knowing state, and its appointed agents. Talk about a rhetorical club you are choosing to swing around, heedlessly.

    2. I sort of disagree here. There would be SOME violence.

      Some addicts cannot hold a job. When money runs out and they still need a fix, they steal. Sometimes to a violent end.

      But I get your drift.

      1. You have to have the separation of causes.

        Even with drugs being illegal I cannot think of any violence with taking drugs.

        There is violence associated with distribution and sales of drugs. Really that is because the serious money involved.

        Cars are legal but there is violence sometimes associated with people using them. Not much violence associated with distribution and sales of cars though.

        Allowing the government to use “drug use” as a cause of violence and then justify all government’s violence is just giving them too much power.

      2. A lot of that is also because of prohibition, though. Not a lot of alcoholics resort to robbery to get their fix. And that’s largely because you can get a good buzz on for $3 if you aren’t picky about your booze.

      3. As Zeb mentioned, it is the illegality that drives up the cost of prohibited drugs while legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine remain affordable if one is willing to consume the offerings available at the lowest price point. Even with the inevitable taxes that would be levied on legalized psychotropic drugs, should the U.S. ever get to that point, the price would still be small compared to the price under prohibition because all the popular psychotropic drugs are very inexpensive to make. They only become pricy in the last stage of the journey from manufacture to market when the are marked up for “retail” sales. That is also why it is that when law enforcement makes a bust and a large seizure of drugs, the street price value publicly touted in the announcements e.g. “…this takes 2 million dollars in drugs off the street.” is essentially meaningless. Such PR statements are meant to imply that the bust did 2 million dollars in damage to the group selling the drugs but even if the street value quoted is actually accurate the true cost of that loss to the selling organization is only a very small fraction of the street value.

  6. Defenders of the status quo perpetuate the false story that federal prisons are filled with low-level, nonviolent drug offenders

    Erm. Isn’t Sessions the one defending the status quo? Or does he think sentences need to be even harsher?

    1. You’re on the right track with that last sentence.

    2. Indeed. Sessions is even worse than the status quo. He’s the worst thing about the Trump presidency, more than Trump himself.

      Sessions is going to fill those prisons, one way or another. Pesky facts, statistics and nuance just get in the way. Sessions has more important things to think about, like about new ways the state should be a paternal figure to us all.

      He sees the “bad people” as animals that need to be corralled. Of course, when you treat humans like wild animals, that’s how they behave. He has a deep contempt for liberty.

  7. My lawn gnome can beat up Trump’s lawn gnome. My lawn gnome is also smarter than Trump’s lawn gnome and way more decorative.

    1. The nice thing about this presidency is if you said all that on Twitter you’d be in a flame war with the President himself inside of ten minutes.

      1. And at only 125 characters in my comment above I would have room to point out that Trump’s lawn gnome is “terrible just terrible” or maybe “Make lawn gnome’s great again”.

  8. Sessions has other, more logical positions. Dinosaur fossils, for instance, were placed in rock strata by Tha Lawerd 4000 years ago precisely to test our Faith. No problem here. The First Commandment establishes where unquestioning belief stands in the hierarchy of Ghawdly thought. And the Guy was a miracle worker before geology was a thing, so nothing stops Him from planting a few pranks here and there. In fact, The Guy may have well created the universe five minutes ago and our memories are like dem dry dinosaur bones. By that reasoning, maybe there aren’t any peacenick hippies locked up for herbs–at least none that’ve been locked up for more than the past five minutes. Quod Erat Demonstratum!

    1. Well, this was certainly a comment.

      1. I read the comment as a kind of commentary on the cultural rift that exists between the likes of good ole boy Sessions, and the millions of Americans the AG sees fit to persecute and prosecute. I am not sure how religion or, more precisely, Christian Fundamentalists figure in the war on drugs, but I do believe that the writer was looking to illustrate the benighted, hidebound nature of the AG’s mindset vis a vis those whose lifestyle choice(s) he finds particularly offensive, and targets of his scapegoating.

    2. Biting invective. Bravo.

  9. Supreme court time. It is Sessions job to enforce laws not decide which to enforce. It is our lazy, unmotivated and greed driven politicians who create the laws. Focus on the donut not the hole.

    1. That is exactly right. Sessions may be a lot of things most dislike, but he is not the person who makes the laws.

      America has no native criminal class if we don’t include congress. They are the bought and paid for clowns we think are our leaders. Calling them leaders would make a cat laugh.

  10. I do believe in a real sense that Sessions is a good ole boy hiding in plain sight. If George Wallace’s exortation, of “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, and with it, a kind of paternalistic eye on black folk, then, it might be said, given the record of things Sessions has said of the likes of cannabis users, that the AG is about ” Prohibition today, Prohibition tomorrow, Prohibition forever”T The list of characters have apparently changed (or have they?), but the social language is the same, and the persecution just as real.

  11. Even as a Conservative, I have to say Sessions is archaically wrong on the drug issue.

    And it’s so freaking obvious that one has to wonder why. About the only thing I can figure is that they want it illegal because there’s no other way for them to control it.

    ALL drugs should be legal with the same restrictions as alcohol. Period.
    But it won’t happen because there are too many people that feel they must control others and protect them from themselves under the misguided notion that they are “helping” them.

    Let people make their own choices and suffer the consequences, good or bad. MYOB. If their choices impact you, THEN you can have a say.

  12. Excellent article. Sessions just strikes me as the type of aggressively ignorant tyrant that has no redeeming human qualities. He really has no business being AG.

  13. Oh dear gog, more rhetoric from Sessions. Failed policies that do not work = a lazy ass Attorney General. New innovative ideas to get people off of their addiction instead of a boot standing on their necks would be a great start. 40+ years and the problem is WORSE than ever.

    How much more money are you going to spend Sessions? And yea, go have a few mixers with lunch, before having a few more with dinner. Hypocrisy in action!

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  15. [According to Sessions, every federal drug offender is a violent kingpin who not only violates the government’s arbitrary pharmacological taboos . . . poses an intolerable threat to the general public.] “For the approximately 52,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose in 2015,” he says, “drug trafficking was a deadly business.” And for the 88,000 or so Americans who die as a result of alcohol abuse each year, he must reason that, well shucks, that’s just the way it is. It’s not his fault.

    I wonder how many of these drug sentences were for possession of marijuana without intent to distribute. He’s just as hard on marijuana as he is on the worst opium derivative. He makes no distinction among the “drugs” but yet 88,000 deaths as a result of alcohol abuse doesn’t even phase him. I would guess it’s because he drinks a bit of alcoholic beverages himself. This is pathetic hypocrisy.

    He can delude himself to a different opinion in his mind. How does he come to such illogical, and dare I say, prejudicial decisions? It’s very difficult to deal with the attitudes of an attorney general even when such attitudes fly in the face of logic and fact. Perhaps it’s time to seriously campaign against this idiocy. Just as great an idiocy as the 18th amendment for alcohol prohibition. That turned out so well, too. Just as this, it created a black market where there were no laws, the rise of organized crime, and the fact that the public completely ignored it.

  16. “…drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.”
    He is partly right.

    Never in US history have so many people been murdered, imprisoned and their constitutional rights violated since transporting drugs was made illegal.

    To prove these drug warriors are full of shit: If drugs were legal- imported, transported and sold like any other product there would be zero violence.

    Its government bans that make shortages of the demanded products and risk causes price to go up. Higher monetary value causes more incentive to use violence to gain that value.

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  17. Sessions is an idiot! He talks about all the violence surrounding illegal “trafficing” but then equates it to those dispensaries and medical patients where he intends “crack down on these operations ” even though they are operating leagally.

    Sessions is Trumps worst pick for AG. I like a lot of what Trumpo has done – but not this. The whole War on Drugs is and has been an abject failure. But there’s Sessions beating a dead horse. remove the Federal criminality for marijuana and the price goes down and the dosage becomes manageable. Aren’t the states supposed to be the place to test new policies? Isn’t that the basis of the Fedrealism espoused by the republicans?

  18. Utterly illogical my ass, most of you on this site do not deal with the drug dealers on a daily basis. I do and these idiots get out of jail to return a complex they don’t live in and put the residents of the complex I manage in mortal danger. They just had a shoot out around a large propane tank. I want them in jail forever and so would you if you lived in that complex. They have no regard for the lives of other people and I have no feelings towards them if some wayward cop shoots or beats the hell out of them. I have multiple threats on my life as well as my father. They threaten the lives of residents who cooperate with police. Its very simple if it is illegal, don’t do it. Live in the HOOD for a while Jacob with these non violent individuals for a while and your mind will change.

  19. Sessions is just ridiculous. I was optimistic about him at first and I defended him against the racism accusations but his old-fashioned Reagan-era drug warrior policy makes no sense whatsoever in 2017. His arguments here are chock full of fallacies. I actually kind of hope the Russia investigation takes him down, even if the charges are baseless.

  20. Mr Sessions as a former undercover investigator I no longer feel our nation’s war on drugs is working. As for the “Drug Dealers” you speak of let me give you an example.

    He or she knows someone who sells marijuana. Several friends chip in to buy a small bag of pot. When they return 7 friends who chipped in for the pot sit in a living room.

    Unknown to them one is an undercover cop. As the bag of pot is handed from one person to the next to inspect the purchase, each hand off to the next person is delivery of a controlled substance.

    At the end 6 people go to jail as “Drug Dealers” for helping a “friend” buy a bag. So that’s the anatomy of a real drug dealer Mr Sessions?

  21. Cool name. I make regular donations but I am not eligible for membership. It sounds like you might be a member, though. If so then my hat is off and I salute you. I find it difficult to envision a way the country will get off the path it’s following without the moral authority and experience of the members bringing their professional peers around. I think their message about restoring community relations (and the respect that would bring) is about the only thing powerful enough to out-compete temptations like forfeiture — it was a terrible mistake legislatures made when they set that up because such a thing would appeal to anybody’s basic human nature. But the member’s message is stronger because it speaks to the best part of human nature … and they are the only people qualified to deliver it. Without getting a large percentage of the profession on-board I don’t believe this country is going to make the significant course corrections that are so needed.

  22. “drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.”

    False. My ex’s uncle was part owner of a beer distributor and never once committed a violent act on the job.

    “If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t, and don’t, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.”

    Duh. This is an argument for legalization, not a tougher drug war. This man is extremely delusional.

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