Attorney General Jeff Sessions got blasted by President Donald Trump for recusing himself from the continuing Russia investigation in a New York Times piece published Wednesday. Sessions brushed off the criticism, saying he’ll stay at the Justice Department “as long as it is appropriate.” But forget Russia and loyalty to Trump. For the good of American freedom, Sessions’ immediate resignation would be extremely appropriate.
Trump lamented how “unfair” it was for Sessions to step away from the Russia fiasco, noting that he wouldn’t have given the former Alabama Senator the top job at the Justice Department had he seen a recusal coming.
But if Trump truly cares about smaller government in the United States, he should have other reservations about Sessions. At the top of the list would be the current AG’s willingness to trample state and individual rights waging an anti-drug crusade that was proven unworkable years ago.
Sessions signaled early on that his personal feelings, likely combined with a desire to impress his former conservative constituents in Alabama, would fuel policy at his Justice Department.
And if you’re a fan of the failed War on Drugs, he certainly hasn’t disappointed.
Amid protests from several governors in states where voters have opted to end government’s overzealous prosecution of recreational and medical marijuana users, Sessions announced that his DOJ is working to reverse Obama administration reforms that allowed states to regulate legal sales.
In a letter to Sessions, the governors noted that the legalization efforts create a new frontier for American drug enforcement. But, they added, experience in legal pot states so far provides that legalization is actually reducing criminal activity as well as addiction rates involving more dangerous substances.
But this is not an issue Sessions appears willing to consider with the benefit of new information. He is, after all, the guy who made it known that he believes simply that “good people” don’t smoke marijuana.
There probably are plenty of not-so-good people smoking doobies right now. But there are also plenty of upstanding Americans, taxpayers with stable jobs looking to unwind without reaching for a bottle and chronic pain sufferers looking for relief that is less likely to lead to addiction and possible death, having a toke.
Good federal policymakers don’t use bureaucratic force to reverse populist will at the state level. And good government doesn’t attack individual freedoms that harm little more than the sensibilities of people with moral objections to behaviors in which they can choose freely not to participate.
Besides dictating what “good people” should and shouldn’t do in fine southern English, Sessions has two primary arguments for his obsession with undoing marijuana reform: He has to enforce federal law. And drugs of any kind increase violent crime rates.
The first argument has validity– and a solid congressional effort to reverse insane federal marijuana laws is long overdue. But Sessions is also a smart man with a solid legal background, meaning he knows that he has the discretion to pursue other priorities until Congress gets smart.
The second argument doesn’t make much sense at all, especially with regard to marijuana.
Prohibition of anything creates an opportunity for criminal profit. Make anything off-limits and some people will accept the risk of providing it in return for inflated financial reward. This is pretty basic stuff.
Legal and regulated marijuana makes the business look more appealing to people not interested in losing their freedom over a business and, therefore, not as likely to resort to violence out of desperation. Access to courts and the financial system also helps.
But Sessions, claiming he’s worried about marijuana-related violence, is working to do away with the very reforms that are helping “good people” enter a market previously controlled by less savory actors.
The governors who wrote Sessions are seeing firsthand how positive decriminalization can be in terms of reducing negative aspects of the black market– and they’re begging the AG to back off.
From their letter:
The Cole Memo and the related Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance provide the foundation for state regulatory systems and are vital to maintaining control over marijuana in our states. Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences. Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states. Likewise, without the FinCEN guidance, financial institutions will be less willing to provide services to marijuana-related businesses. This would force industry participants to be even more cash reliant, posing safety risks both to the public and to state regulators conducting enforcement activity.
So, people in certain states decided that prohibition of marijuana doesn’t work and organized to change their laws. Decriminalization is working. And Sessions has his fingers jammed in his ears as he shouts into the abyss about reefer madness. Perhaps the irrational actions of pot smokers isn’t what we should be worrying about.
The absurdity of Sessions’ refusal to consider that the federal government has taken the wrong approach to marijuana all these years is eclipsed only by his pernicious doubling down on other freedom-robbing federal policies.
Mandatory minimum sentences are an example of what can happen when Congress is at its worst. The media stirs up public frenzy about some national emergency (in the case of current mandatory minimum laws, it was a crack epidemic in the 1980s), and lawmakers rush to outdo one another with toughness in solving the problem.
Unfortunately, legislators have a very bad track record of de-legislating. (If you don’t believe they’re pretty awful at repealing laws, even when major mistakes were made, do a Google search for Obamacare.)
Mandatory minimums are meant to make the idea of loosing freedom so serious that a person would have to be out of their mind to risk breaking the laws they affect. Of course, it’s also worth noting that serious drug addicts– the people who have the most trouble with things like crack– aren’t always great at considering consequences. Likewise, members of Congress in the 1980s weren’t super at judging what amount of crack is A LOT, or enough to turn a bad decision into decades in prison. The result is that thousands of small-time drug offenders are sitting behind bars on big time convictions.
As prison populations exploded in the years since mandatory minimums became law, civil liberties organizations began crying foul. And in the past few years, lawmakers have even taken note of the problem and made bipartisan attempts to restore some common sense in nonviolent criminal sentencing.
They aren’t good at de-legislating– so the process is slow.
Still, some relief came via some of the few Obama administration actions that represented a rejection of feds-know-best thinking. The previous administration’s DOJ returned some discretion to prosecutors and judges, who know more about the people brought before them than lawmakers in the 1980s knew about crack cocaine.
Sessions reversed the policies.
“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” he said in a memo earlier this year.
He added: “We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple.”
Sessions’ latest tough-crime effort is an assault on state laws designed to stop cops seeking revenue from stealing property from people never charged with a crime via civil asset forfeiture. Put simply, federal asset forfeiture laws allow investigators to declare property has been used to commit a crime with little evidence. The property owner must then provide proof to the contrary, engaging the government in a costly legal battle.
“With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners,” he said.
What Sessions is saying is that agencies in states where legislators are working to reduce civil forfeitures needn’t worry, just phone up the feds and point them toward the allegedly criminal assets. The feds will combine the proceeds of the confiscations in a big pot and redistribute it to agencies throughout the nation.
Are we getting the message here? Drugs are bad.
If not, Sessions is also working to get the D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) up and running again. Just say no, kids. Never mind the thousands of American public education recipients who sat through D.A.R.E. throughout the 1980s and 1990s currently rotting in prisons, or in mortuaries.
Of course, a D.A.R.E. update focused on drug-related health education might be one of the least harmful things Sessions accomplishes at Justice. It’s too bad the rest of his policies are centered around daring Americans to leave the land of “good people” via recreational drug use so that they can find out just how thoroughly government is capable of destroying a person’s life.