Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 8, 2016
Justice Demands We Stop Jeff Sessions; Sessions can’t be trusted to be America’s top law enforcement official.
By Bill Piper | Drug Policy Alliance
As someone who has spent almost two decades working to end the drug war, I have very specific concerns about how Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s selection for U.S. attorney general, could use existing policies to target already vulnerable communities.
Sessions’ record shows he’s likely to escalate the war on drugs by undermining civil rights, stifling state-level marijuana reforms that have drastically reduced arrests in communities of color, and rolling back much of the progress in policing and criminal justice reform made by the Obama administration.
The last time Sessions faced a confirmation vote, in 1986, his nomination was voted down by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee after they were confronted by Sessions’ extensive history of racist comments and actions. A black colleague testified that Sessions referred to him as “boy.” Sessions referred to the NAACP and other civil rights organizations as un-American groups that “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” He was accused of using his authority as a U.S. attorney to disrupt and prosecute civil rights activists who were registering African-Americans to vote. He even reportedly said he thought the KKK was “OK” until he found out its members smoked pot.
Some people say this is old news. Not me. Sessions has been one of the Senate’s most obstructionist and harmful voices on issues affecting immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, women and the LGBTQ community. He can’t be trusted to be America’s top law enforcement official.
When it comes to drug policy reform, Senator Sessions has nearly single-handedly blocked bipartisan sentencing reform and has been unduly critical of the Justice Department’s use of consent decrees that force local police departments to address police brutality, racial profiling and other civil rights issues. Moreover, he supports civil asset forfeiture, the process by which police can take people’s money and property and keep it for themselves without having to convict anyone of a crime. He opposes granting formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote. (Felony disenfranchisement laws have deprived millions of the right to vote, including 30 percent of black men in the Deep South.)
Sessions recently said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and has attacked the Obama administration for respecting state marijuana laws. If appointed, he could undo important changes made by Obama’s Justice Department by expanding the use of mandatory minimum sentencing and raiding marijuana dispensaries in states where it’s legal.
In Sessions’ hands, the war on drugs could be used as a weapon to spy on, investigate, incarcerate and deport immigrants, Muslims and other targeted groups. Already, President-elect Trump has said he will try to deport any immigrant who commits any kind of criminal offense, no matter how minor, including drug offenses.
For noncitizens, including legal permanent residents, most drug law violations can trigger automatic detention and deportation, often without the possibility of return. Every year since 2008, roughly 40,000 people have been deported from the U.S. for drug law violations – many for simple marijuana possession. And that was without an attorney general who was openly hostile to immigrants and people who use drugs.
The war on drugs has a long history of being a cover for racial injustice. It’s no coincidence that it was launched right after the civil rights movement made major gains. In Nixon’s words (paraphrased by one of his staffers), “the whole problem is really the blacks, the key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
Once charged with a drug offense, people can be legally discriminated against in housing and employment, and denied student loans and public assistance. If their drug law violation was a felony, they can even be denied the right to vote – in some states for life.
The war on drugs is a new Jim Crow and we should fight tooth and nail against any nominee who wants to escalate it, especially if they have a long record of racist statements and actions. Justice demands we stop Jeff Sessions.
Bill Piper is Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
This commentary first appeared in US News and World Report at: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/thomas-jefferson-street/articles/2016-12-07/we-must-stop-jeff-sessions-from-becoming-donald-trumps-attorney-general
Press Teleconference: What Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General Would Mean for Criminal Justice Reform, Drug Policy Reform, and Civil and Human Rights; Representatives from Spectrum of Organizations Express Strong Concerns About Attorney General Nominee
Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana; There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of voters.
By: Jim Higdo, 12/5/16
DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE
Trump Nominates Another Drug War Zealot, General John Kelly, to Head Department of Homeland Security; Kelly Has Long History of Advocating for Destructive and Ineffective Drug War Policies
DPA’s Ethan Nadelmann: “It Looks Like Donald Trump is Revving Up to Re-Launch the Failed Drug War”
Today, media reported that President-elect Donald Trump will nominate General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly served as head of Southcom, overseeing drug war efforts in Latin America under the Obama Administration. The Dept. of Homeland Security oversees drug interdiction operations of Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration.
“This is looking really bad,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “First Sessions for Attorney General, then Price at HHS, and now yet another old-style drug war character for Homeland Security. It looks like Donald Trump is revving up to re-launch the failed drug war.”
In 2014, Kelly told a Congressional hearing that marijuana legalization in the U.S. was undermining U.S relations with countries in Latin America. Kelly commented that governments were “confused by the signals that our legalization sends, and when they’re investing so much in resources and blood they have to question that.” Kelly claimed that Latin American leaders were in “disbelief” that states were legalizing marijuana – despite the fact that many Latin America countries have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, or explored doing so.
Despite the Defense Department’s billion-dollar counter-narcotics annual budget, Kelly also claimed in a separate hearing in 2014 that he needed more funding to fight the drug war, saying that a lack of resources means he has to “simply sit and watch” drug traffickers as they move their supplies, and are unable to interdict 74% of smuggling. Two weeks later, this time at a press conference in Latin America, Kelly was talking about how successful interdiction efforts were in the region, with his Guatemalan counterpart extolling a 62% reduction in drug flow, seemingly contradicting Kelly’s earlier comments to Congress.
In April 2016, he testified before a Senate Committee that in the mid-1960s, ”the use of drugs became literally cool as projected by Hollywood, social progressives, and even Harvard professors.” When discussing people who use drugs, he also said that “most of these abusers started with the gateway drug that marijuana most certainly is.”
While Trump pledged to respect state-level marijuana reforms during the presidential campaign, he named a dedicated opponent of marijuana reform and longtime drug war extremist, Senator Jeff Sessions, as attorney general. Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Price, who Trump selected as director of health and human services, has voted against key medical marijuana measures in Congress. And today, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who sued the state of Colorado to block marijuana legalization, was selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Kelly is a big-time drug war zealot,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs. “As head of Southern Command he demonstrated that he is a true believer in the drug war, and it’s incredibly worrying that he could now head up Homeland Security.”
John F. Kelly thinks the war on drugs is a failure because we do not spend enough on it.
Dec. 8, 2016
Like Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, the man he wants to run the Department of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly, is an old-fashioned drug warrior who is alarmed by the ongoing collapse of marijuana prohibition. But the secretary of homeland security, unlike the attorney general, does not have much power to interfere with state marijuana laws. And unlike Sessions’ complaints about the Obama administration’s toleration of marijuana legalization, which sit uneasily with Trump’s commitment to respect state decisions in that area, Kelly’s views on drug interdiction are perfectly consistent with the president-elect’s simpleminded faith in the government’s power to stop arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants from crossing the border.
“Kelly is a big-time drug war zealot,” says Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office. “He is true believer in the drug war, and it’s incredibly worrying that he could now head up Homeland Security.”
The Department of Homeland Security includes Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, all of which play a direct or indirect role in the war on drugs. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general with an unrealistic notion of what can be accomplished by ships, aircraft, and men in uniform, is well-qualified to oversee these doomed antidrug activities, which apply military logic to a project that has nothing to do with foreign aggression or national defense.
As head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command for three years, Kelly witnessed the failure of drug interdiction and concluded that more interdiction was the answer. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2014, he complained that budget cuts had forced him to dial back drug interdiction in the Caribbean. “Because of asset shortfalls, we’re unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling,” Kelly said. “I simply sit and watch it go by.” Later that day he told reporters, “Without assets, certain things will happen. Much larger amounts of drugs will flow up from Latin America.”
Kelly apparently thinks interdiction reduces the total amount of drugs reaching the United States. But that is not how interdiction works, to the extent that it works at all. Given all the places where drugs can be produced and all the ways they can be transported to people who want them, the most that drug warriors can hope to accomplish is to impose costs on traffickers that are high enough to raise retail prices, thereby discouraging consumption.
How has that been going? “With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply,” a 2013 study published by BMJ Open concluded, “illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.”
The basic problem is that drugs acquire most of their value after they get to the country where they will be consumed, so seizing them en route has little impact on the cost to consumers. If Kelly had gotten the resources he wanted and increased interceptions of “suspected maritime drug smuggling,” there is little reason to think the upshot would have been less drug use. The economics of drug prohibition mean there will always be more than enough smuggling to compensate for whatever fraction drug warriors manage to intercept.
Kelly thinks a determined government can overcome economics. He estimated that federal employees managed to seize 20 percent of the drugs moving toward the United States and implied that the share would be bigger if only he had a bigger budget. But if traffickers treat seizures as a cost of doing business and respond by boosting shipments, the percentage seized may stay exactly the same even as the amount seized rises. And since more seizures do not necessarily translate into noticeably higher retail prices, there is no reason to expect consumption will be reduced, which is supposed to be the ultimate goal.
Trump’s understanding of drug interdiction is similar to Kelly’s. “I’m going to create borders,” he promised in a campaign video. “No drugs are coming in. We’re gonna build a wall. You know what I’m talking about. You have confidence in me. Believe me, I will solve the problem.” Kelly, who shares the delusion that drug prohibition has been failing for more than a century simply because the government has not tried hard enough to enforce it, is a natural choice to guard Trump’s magical wall.
Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist.
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