Attorney General Holder: New drug focus for federal prosecutors

In a few recent blog posts, we drew attention to strong signals coming from the United States Department of Justice indicating that substantive change is on the horizon pertaining to the federal government’s prosecution of drug crimes. Please see, for example, our post entry dated August 15, 2013.

That has indeed turned out to be the case, with recent announcements coming from federal officials having broad relevance across the country, including in Georgia.

One of those announcements has potentially broad implications for many low-level and nonviolent drug offenders, with United States Attorney General Eric Holder noting last month that the Obama administration finds material fault with the policy of mandatory minimum sentencing in many cases. As applied for many years and following changes in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, mandatory minimum terms have sent many thousands of offenders charged with relatively insignificant drug offenses to prison on lengthy sentences.

Critics from across a broad swath have charged that the policy undercuts offenders’ rehabilitation, stresses punishment over treatment, doesn’t reduce recidivism, is generally applied in a racially unfair manner, and is prohibitively expensive. The administration agrees with many of those arguments and is calling for change.

In a tandem thrust, Holder announced just last week new federal prosecutorial guidelines pursuant to which prosecutors will now tighten their focus on a narrowed range of criminal activity meriting enforcement action.

Holder said that such activity should no longer include casual marijuana use. In states where pot has been decriminalized for medical and recreational use, the attorney general noted that the federal government will not preempt state laws so long as local authorities “impose an appropriately strict regulatory system that follows the new guidelines.

In the view of federal authorities, that means that state and federal prosecutorial efforts should largely eschew activities involving small-time and casual use in favor of targeting the more violent crime typically associated with large criminal enterprises like cartels.

The DOJ also wants to see a strong focus placed on persons who distribute drugs, including marijuana, to minors.

Source: NPR, “Federal prosecutors told not to focus on marijuana users,” Mark Memmott, Aug. 29, 2013