U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on Wednesday that reverses some of the more compassionate policies of his predecessors regarding drug convictions, which may result in a spike of Drug War-era mandatory minimum sentences — even for nonviolent drug offenders.
In the memo — which was issued to thousands of assistant U.S. attorneys throughout the country and all of the assistant district attorneys in Washington D.C. — Sessions orders prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”
The move also immediately rescinds two policies set in place by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in 2013, which had been characterized by civil rights groups as “appropriately merciful,” according to The Washington Post. The holdover policies in question had instructed prosecutors to strategically avoid triggering mandatory minimum life sentences for some convictions, including for nonviolent drug offenders and traffickers who met specific conditions — such as not belonging to a cartel, gang, or other organized crime syndicate.
“We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple,” Sessions said during a speech on Friday. “If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be willfully blind to your misconduct.”
Sessions has a long history of being aggressive on drug crimes. He has strongly condemned cannabis users in particular throughout his political career, having said as recently as 2016 that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business,” Sessions said on Friday. “If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it with the barrel of a gun.”
Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said that, “Jeff Sessions is pushing federal prosecutors to reverse progress and repeat a failed experiment — the War on Drugs — that has devastated the lives and rights of millions of Americans, ripping apart families and communities and setting millions, particularly Black people and other people of color, on a vicious cycle of incarceration.”
“It’s really ironic,” Molly Gill, the director of federal legislative affairs for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told The LA Times. “Jeff Sessions touts himself as a champion of public safety, and they want to waste taxpayers’ money on people who aren’t that much of a threat.”