How Jeff Sessions wants to bring back the war on drugs – By Sari Horwitz April 8 at 8:32 PM

Steven H. Cook has been tapped to help lead the national crackdown on violent crime. Here’s what he said about criminal justice reform in September 2016. (The Washington Post)


When the Obama administration launched a sweeping policy to reduce harsh prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, rave reviews came from across the political spectrum. Civil rights groups and the Koch brothers praised Obama for his efforts, saying he was making the criminal justice system more humane.

But there was one person who watched these developments with some horror. Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel.

“The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post` last year.

The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was then president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. But he won’t be overlooked anymore.

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Nixon official: real reason for the drug war was to criminalize black people and hippies – Updated by German Lopez on March 22, 2016, 8:00 a.m. ET

The war on drugs: Is it a genuine public health crusade or an attempt to carry out what author Michelle Alexander characterizes as “the New Jim Crow”?

A new report by Dan Baum for Harper’s Magazine suggests the latter. Specifically, Baum refers to a quote from John Ehrlichman, who served as domestic policy chief for President Richard Nixon when the administration declared its war on drugs in 1971. According to Baum, Ehrlichman said in 1994 that the drug war was a ploy to undermine Nixon’s political opposition — meaning, black people and critics of the Vietnam War:

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

This is an incredibly blunt, shocking response — one with troubling implications for the 45-year-old war on drugs. And it’s possible Ehrlichman isn’t being totally honest, given that he reportedly felt bitter and betrayed by Nixon after spending time in prison over the Watergate scandal.

But it’s not implausible. Although black Americans aren’t more likely to use or sell drugs, they’re much more likely to be arrested for them. And when black people are convicted of drug charges, they generally face longer prison sentences for the same crimes, according to a 2012 report from the US Sentencing Commission.

 Joe Posner/Vox

Ehrlichman claimed this was a goal of the drug war, not an unintended consequence. And Baum cites this as one of many reasons to end the drug war once and for all.

Ending the war on drugs doesn’t have to be a binary choice between prohibition and legalization

Baum’s argument: Drug prohibition began with poor intentions, it has contributed to terrible consequences (racial disparities in the justice system and drug-fueled violence around the world), and it has failed to significantly curtail drug abuse and trafficking. So we should try a new approach — and legalize and regulate drugs.

But in doing this, Baum glosses over a few options. Even if it’s true that the drug war was launched on faulty reasons, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t led to some benefits. And even if those benefits aren’t worth the costs of the current model of prohibition, there are alternatives to pulling back drug prohibition besides legalization.

As I’ve written before, the drug war does likely prevent some drug use: One studyby Jon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that prohibition multiplies the price of hard drugs like cocaine by as much as 10 times. And illicit drugs obviously aren’t available through easy means — one can’t just walk into a CVS and buy heroin. So the drug war is likely stopping some drug use: Caulkins estimates that legalization could lead hard drug abuse to triple.

there are alternatives to pulling back drug prohibition besides legalization

America’s latest drug epidemic provides some evidence for Caulkins’s claims. In the past couple decades, doctors loosened access to very addictive and potentially deadly opioid painkillers. Painkiller abuse exploded, leading not just to more overdose deaths but to people trying other opioids, such as heroin, and overdosing on those as well. So more access led to more abuse and deaths.

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We Have Lost the War on Drugs – Dec. 21, 2015, at 1:34 p.m.

The number of people who died of drug overdoses in 2014 is double those who died in 2000.

Now that we have lost the war, what are we going to do about it?

Now that we have lost the war, what are we going to do about it?

It’s time, finally, to face the ugly truth. We’ve lost the war on drugs in America. We need a new playbook, now, before more lives are lost.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that fatal drug overdoses in America were the highest in recorded history in 2014. The news is grim. But what the new CDC data say about certain aspects of American society more broadly right now is even scarier, to be honest.

CDC reported that fatal drug overdoses killed nearly 50,000 Americans in 2014, which is a new high. To put another way, more people died of drug overdoses than were killed in auto accidents last year.

More than half of the deaths involved either heroin or prescription narcotic painkillers like OxyContin. These two classes of drugs were responsible for more than 28,000 deaths in 2014, the CDC reported, or 61 percent of the fatal drug overdoses.

Despite an endless interdiction and criminal justice effort for seemingly forever, heroin and prescription painkillers are easy to find, easy to use, and relatively cheap to obtain on the street. No one in any demographic was immune. Men and women of every race and ethnic group, of all ages, were affected. If you want to get high, you’re going to get high. The “war on drugs” isn’t going to stop you.

But here’s the truly scary part. That number – 50,000 deaths from fatal drug overdoses – is double the number of Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2000.

 We're playing a loser's game at every level with drug treatment and our societal response to what is happening inside people's brains when they enter the world of drug dependency.

Let that fact sink in for a moment.

After our government at the local, state and federal level has declared that we would “win” the war on drugs on our streets – an effort that has cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars; sent a significant proportion of young, black men to prison on drug convictions; and triggered violent police confrontations in known drug havens in urban areas – we have not only lost, we’re getting overrun.

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N.J. Gov. Chris Christie: Time to rethink war on drugs – By Seth McLaughlin-The Washington Times Friday, June 20, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at Jun 21, 2014 2.49

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told a gathering of social conservatives Friday that the nation’s decades-long “war on drugs” has failed and that incarceration is not the cure for drug addiction.

Mr. Christie, who is eying a presidential run in 2016, said that to be truly pro-life, conservatives should stand up for the victims of drug addiction just as they stand up for unborn babies.

SEE ALSO: Pope’s view on legalizing drugs: Just say no

“There needs to be a culture of life that Pope John Paul II spoke about,” Mr. Christie said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference. “From the womb to natural death, we need to be there even for those who stumble and fall. To be there to pick them up. To be there for the true meaning, the complete meaning of being pro-life.”

The address marked Mr. Christie’s first to a large gathering of social conservatives and comes months after the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal threatened his political future.

Mr. Christie said the drug problem impacts people of every age, religion and socioeconomic class, and advocated treatment for nonviolent offenders.

“We have tried now for 40 plus years a war on drugs that is broad and wide against everyone involved in drugs in America,” Mr. Christie said. “It hasn’t worked. What works is giving more people, nonviolent drug offenders, adults, the ability to get the tools they need to be able to deal with their disease.”

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U.S. drug war slowly shifts fire away from low-level users – By Jerry Markon, Published: March 30

Someone was with Salvatore Marchese when he died of a heroin overdose, but no one called 911.

So his mother, Patty DiRenzo, a legal aide, began a quest to help make sure that others wouldn’t be afraid to make that call. She created a Facebook page, wrote New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie nearly every day and called all 120 members of the state legislature.

The grieving mother accomplished what would have been inconceivable a few short years ago, much less back when the nation launched its war on drugs: She helped pass a bill, signed by a Republican governor, that lets people get away with using drugs for the sake of saving lives.

The state’s new “Good Samaritan law,’’ which immunizes from prosecution people who call 911 to report an overdose even if they are using drugs themselves, is part of an emerging shift in the country’s approach to illegal drugs.

Four decades after the federal government declared war on narcotics, the prevailing tough-on-drugs mentality is giving way to a more nuanced view, one that emphasizes treatment and health nearly as much as courtrooms and law enforcement, according to addiction specialists and other experts.

The changes are both rhetorical and substantive, reflecting fiscal problems caused in part by prisons bulging with drug offenders and a shifting social ethos that views some drug use as less harmful than in the past. States are driving the trend. At least 30 have modified drug crime penalties since 2009, often repealing or reducing tough mandatory minimum sentences for lower-level offenses, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which works with states and tracks the legislation.

One-third of the states now have a Good Samaritan law, with the majority enacted since 2012.

That is the same year that Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use. “There is certainly more momentum than ever before,’’ said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group that expects that a dozen or more states are likely to legalize the drug within several years.

Change is also afoot at the federal level, where FBI data show drug arrests are down 18 percent since 2006, and the Obama administration tries to avoid the phrase “war on drugs.” The Justice Department is strongly supporting changes being considered by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that would reduce sentences for most drug offenders, and the Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed a bipartisan bill that would cut them in half for some drug crimes.

No one is suggesting that the fight against drugs is over. Federal agents are still battling traffickers on the southwest border, and the administration has taken aggressive steps against abuse of prescription drugs and other illicit substances. Polls show that even as a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana, overwhelming numbers still oppose that step for cocaine and heroin.

And while many of the drug law changes have drawn bipartisan support, some prosecutors are opposing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s efforts to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. The marijuana legalization campaign has also faced resistance from former Drug Enforcement Administration leaders and other critics.

But after a generation of anti-drug messages symbolized by the “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s and enforcement accompanied by martial metaphors, experts say a broad consensus is emerging around a crucial distinction. Under the new paradigm, they said, traffickers engaged in the business of drugs will still face long prison terms, while lower-level users will increasingly be viewed as addicts with a treatable illness.

“States in particular are starting to make much bigger distinctions between personal use and commercial activity,’’ said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, who pointed out that some states have recently toughened penalties for large-scale drug sales while relaxing them for drug possession.

Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and an expert on criminal sentencing, called the new landscape a strategic shift rather than a “retreat” from the anti-drug war. “We are retrenching,’’ he said, “and coming to the view that if we deploy our forces more effectively, that will allow us to win this war and take a healthier approach.’’

Era of tough enforcement

It was June 1971 when President Richard M. Nixon sent a special message to Congress and targeted drugs as America’s “public enemy number one.’’

“If we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then it will surely in time destroy us,’’ Nixon said in the message as he called drug abuse “a national emergency” and established a White House office to attack it.

It was the start of what came to be known as the war on drugs, which emerged as a reaction to fear of crime and the perceived excesses of the 1960s. The crackdown escalated in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan as Congress, with bipartisan support, established tough mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana and other drugs.

With aggressive enforcement, the number of people jailed nationwide for drug offenses exploded from 41,000 in 1980 to 499,000 in 2011, according to the Sentencing Project, a think tank that advocates criminal justice changes.


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The war on drugs is a costly fiasco – By SIR RICHARD BRANSON | 10/8/13 10:25 PM EDT

A sign with a DEA badge is shown. Reuters

The global war on drugs has failed, and existing laws must be changed, Branson says. | Reuters

As the eyes of the world watch the U.S. government shutdown, leaving as many as 800,000 of its employees without pay, I find myself dumbstruck that one of the agencies that is still showing up for work is the Drug Enforcement Administration. The agents of the DEA are described as “essential” employees going about their daily business of fighting the global war on drugs. And yet, as a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, it is clear to me and many others that the war on drugs is failing and is also costing the U.S. taxpayer more than $50 billion a year. How can this possibly make economic sense at a time of such financial uncertainty? The answer: It doesn’t.

What would make sense is a more humane approach in dealing with existing drug laws. The Global Commission on Drug Policy brings a science-based discussion about humane and effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies. In Geneva last week, I joined a panel discussion with the former presidents of Brazil and Switzerland and the former foreign minister of Norway. Our message was unanimous — yes, drugs are a complex and controversial issue, but our voices are just part of an increasing chorus of lawmakers and leaders who all agree: The global war on drugs has failed, and existing laws must be changed.

I am delighted to see how that thinking is also gaining hold in the United States, with high-ranking government officials from the attorney general to senators on Capitol Hill calling for a new way we view existing drug laws. Speaking at the American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco in August, Attorney General Eric Holder made a major step in the right direction. Holder announced he was ordering federal prosecutors to stop seeking maximum punishments for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. His acknowledgement that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for too long for no good law enforcement reason,” didn’t come a minute too early, given that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more 2.5 million drug offenders behind bars, and nearly 5 million people on probation and parole. These numbers are shocking on many levels.

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Organizations that include sheriffs, narcotics officers and big-city police chiefs slammed Attorney General Eric Holder in a joint letter Friday, expressing “extreme disappointment” at his announcement that the Department of Justice would allow Colorado and Washington to implement state laws that legalized recreational marijuana for adults.


By Ryan Grim – Aug 30, 2013

Police Groups Furiously Protest Eric Holder’s Marijuana Policy Announcement