AG Jeff Sessions Wants To Lock Up More Low-Level Drug Offenders

By Victoria Kim 05/11/17

The ever-controversial new Attorney General also wants to make sentences harsher and longer for drug offenders.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions Photo via YouTube

Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t backing down from his anti-marijuana crusade—even after Congress forbade the Justice Department this month from using any money in the federal budget to go after US states that have legalized medical marijuana.

According to The Washington Post, the 70-year-old attorney general is considering overturning a memo issued by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which told federal prosecutors to avoid charging certain non-violent, low-level defendants with drug offenses that would come with harsh mandatory minimum sentences

This would bring back the practice of imposing the most severe charges against drug offenders, whether they committed a low-level crime or not, anonymous sources told The Post.

Sessions wouldn’t stop there—he’s also weighing whether to bring back the use of “enhancements” which can make prison sentences even longer. Enhancements may be applied if, for example, a defendant charged with a federal drug or gun crime has a drug felony conviction on their record. 

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department stuck to a policy of rolling back harsh penalties for non-violent, low-level drug offenders so that the time may more fairly fit the crime. Holder had told federal prosecutors to only apply enhancements in cases where there was the use or the threat of violence.

It’s likely that Sessions will go through with his plan, given his history of anti-marijuana rhetoric especially since being sworn in as Attorney General in February. “I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” he said during a February press briefing. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

“States, they can pass the laws they choose,” he added. “I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”

If Sessions were to ramp up the use of mandatory minimum sentences, he would be undoing much of the progress made under the Obama administration in terms of criminal justice reform. 

Up until his last days in office, former President Obama continued to grant clemency to non-violent offenders who landed themselves with lengthy prison sentences thanks to mandatory minimums. He granted a total of 1,715 clemencies during his time in office—more than any other U.S. president—including shortening the sentences of 568 lifers.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr