Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Al.) has had a tumultuous first few months in office. He has already had to recuse himself from an investigations into ties between the Trump campaign, for which he served as a surrogate, and Russia. He has also faced large-scale calls for his resignation due to his role in the firing of FBI director James Comey. The shocking information tied to Sessions and the President who appointed him has distracted people from the disturbing memo he recently sent to all federal prosecutors asking them to once again seek mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
Sessions Puts the DOJ in a Battle Against Progress
On Friday, Attorney General Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the most extreme possible sentences against suspects, erasing Obama-era policies that eased penalties for some nonviolent drug violations. The memo he sent to prosecutors ordered them to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” It also stated, “By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums.”
A reaffirmation of mandatory minimum sentences by the nation’s highest law enforcement official will, according to Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), “accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system.” Paul added, “We should be treating our nation’s drug epidemic for what it is — a public health crisis, not an excuse to send people to prison and turn a mistake into a tragedy.”
Paul’s criticism is completely correct. He is not the only person coming out against Sessions on this issue, others like Sen. Corey Booker (D-Ny.) and many federal judges have also spoken out. The policy shift being made by Sessions’ Department of Justice will only serve to break up families, fill our prisons, and do absolutely nothing to curb the drug epidemic. The new policy differs from the Obama administration policy which directed prosecutors not to charge people with drug offenses that carried mandatory minimum sentences. Prosecutors were told to use mandatory minimums for serious and or violent criminals. The progressive policy the Obama-era DOJ implemented intended to limit the amount of people in prisons.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences Are Unnecessary and Wrong
According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States represents 4.4 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of the worlds prisoners. The shockingly high incarceration rate in the United States is due in large part to the failed “War on Drugs.” In 2015, 1 person every 49 seconds was arrested for a marijuana related offense. Another reason for repealing mandatory minimum sentences was that they disproportionately affect black communities. The ACLU reports that black people are four to five times likelier to be convicted for drug possession, even though surveys indicate that black and white people use drugs at similar rates.
How the Policy Shift Affects Medical Marijuana Patients
Marijuana users will be disproportionately affected by the new Sessions memo. Medical marijuana users who live in legal states should not be too worried about being arrested and federally charged for using, possessing, or purchasing marijuana as Donald Trump himself has stated that he will “leave medical marijuana states alone.” However, people who are arrested attempting to access their medicine in a non-legal state can now be sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence.
Sessions disregard for the harm that these new policies will cause shouldn’t be surprising. He has been quoted as saying “anyone who smokes marijuana is not a good person.” Former co-workers also testified under oath that he had joked that he was “OK” with the Ku Klux Klan until he learned they “smoked marijuana.” It is clear that he lacks the smallest amount of empathy and his new memo to federal prosecutors reflects that.
Lane is based in Southern California and is a content curator for Medical Marijuana 411. He focuses his research into finding informative stories that can help medical marijuana patients better understand their diverse medicine.