Concerns that Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be aggressive on non-violent drug offenders have been confirmed. On May 10, Sessions issued a memorandum outlining a new protocol for federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors across the country are directed to charge suspects with the most serious provable offense possible under the new guidelines.
“Prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Jeff Sessions wrote in the memo. “The most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences,” he added. Sessions has sought after harsher sentencing in the recent past. It’s a swift departure from the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to domestic policies at the Justice Department.
A growing list of judges say that they are forced to charge suspects with mandatory minimum sentences. Too often, suspects are punished with hard time for non-violent offenses. Judges have no choice but to uphold the law as it is written.
The new directive has been called “The War on Drugs 2.0,” and could resemble Bush or Clinton-era policies. Former Attorney General Eric Holder fired back at Sessions’ “ill-informed” policy, stating in a letter “It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately.” Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative was intended to target only the most serious crimes and drop the number of non-violent drug offenses. Jeff Sessions withdrew his signature on Holder’s initiative.
During the Obama era and under Holder’s guidance, federal prosecutors were directed to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes under certain criteria. Minimum sentences were avoidable if the crime didn’t involve death, violence or the threat of violence, or if the defendant was the leader of a criminal organization and if the defendant didn’t have significant criminal history. These guidelines, which affect cannabis consumers, have been replaced with a much harsher policy under the direction of Sessions. In April 2016, Sessions said “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”