As a grumpy libertarian, it’s not often that I overtly praise this president (or any president, for that matter), but President Obama is on his way to garnering a round of applause from this writer. According to senior White House officials, the president plans clemency for hundreds of non-violent drug offenders by the time he leaves office.
I’ve long been a critic of the lackluster progress this president has made in ending the war on drugs. First term Obama mocked a voter’s question about marijuana decriminalization; his Department of Justice issued contradictory messages about whether they’d prosecute marijuana dispensaries in legal states; and legal pot sellers in California, Montana, Colorado, and Washington were threatened by the feds, audited by the IRS, and shut down by the DEA.
With the latter two states legalizing marijuana, we’ve noticed a slightly quieter federal government on that front. Attorney General Eric Holder has also taken up the rhetoric of a criminal justice reformer, pushing drug sentencing reform while the Smarter Sentencing Act (supported by strange bedfellows in GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Dem Sens. Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin) sits in the Senate.
In December, I hailed President Obama’s “positive step” in commuting the sentences of eight non-violent drug law offender, as part of his effort to rectify the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. In January, the White House announced that it would encourage defense lawyers to suggest low-level drug offenders for possible clemency. And then last week, he granted clemency to another drug offender, largely due to incorrect paperwork that gave the man a longer sentence than required.
And then a senior White House official told Yahoo News on Monday that the president intends to give mercy to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of nonviolent drug offenders, reversing an otherwise “abysmal” record on presidential clemency.
If the Yahoo story proves true, this administration will deserve some applause for taking serious steps in ending some injustices of our draconian sentencing guidelines. Hopefully, on criminal justice reform, second term Obama can make first term Obama blush.
ICYMI: On a related note, we discussed mass incarceration and the broken criminal justice system last week during a Mediaite/CKI panel event featuring the likes of former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Texas NAACP Pres. Gary Bledsoe. Watch that below:
[h/t Drug Policy Alliance]
[Featured image via Reuters]
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org