Easing the drug war
The following editorial appeared recently in the Seattle Times.
Attorney General Eric Holder's speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco was a bit like hearing from a stockbroker after trading has closed.
"Well, of course the market went down." Well, of course the United States needs to rethink drug laws and enforcement.
Decades after America righteously declared a zero-tolerance policy toward all drug crimes and nonviolent crimes involving drugs, Holder and others want to stop the abuses.
Seize the belated insights whenever they come along.
Support for being "Smart on Crime," in the AG's words, is aimed at undoing laws that maintain "a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration" that "traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities."
Under the policy proposal, fewer drug offenders would face long sentences, fewer would go to federal prison and judges would have more discretion.
Substantial credit for this change of heart might truly go to the bloated, unsustainable expense of a federal prison system bursting at the seams and concentric circles of prison costs the policies impose on local jurisdictions.
These policies are on a path to end in the same way they began, with broad bipartisan support. Republican President Reagan's "War on Drugs" took shape in a heated competition with Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, D-Mass. Neither party wanted to be seen by voters as weak on drugs. As a result, Holder described a federal prison system operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity, with nearly 219,000 inmates.
The American Civil Liberties Union viewed Holder's policy directives to change practices for low-level, nonviolent offenders as crucial steps toward reducing harmful federal prison overcrowding.
The country has come a long way in three decades. Changing laws and attitudes about marijuana have been in the forefront. Holder's policy direction has stirred questions about the need to replace U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, formerly Seattle's police chief, as he leaves the post for another federal job.
Holder has bipartisan support in Congress for change. Maybe something actually will happen to reform laws that have ruined lives and budgets.
The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.
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