While Jeff Sessions – legacy and veritable little prince of the Confederacy – prepares to exit stage left, we’re now bracing for Trump’s latest choice for Attorney General.
Which, like the mass majority of Trump’s choices, leaves many of us feeling…dubious.
While William Barr doesn’t (at least outwardly) profess that “good people” don’t smoke marijuana, his track record indicates he’s long been a fan of increased incarceration as a means to reduce violent crime.
And analysts, observers and just plain folks are looking into to this to gain some insight on where he’ll potentially stand on drug policy.
Is William Barr a Poor Choice?
As usual, nothing is certain in Trump’s White House (of Cards).
And while Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, was certainly happy to see Sessions go, he thinks Trump’s nominee is worse than just a poor choice:
It’s hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one. The vast majority of Americans believe the war on drugs needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next Attorney General be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies. William Barr is a disastrous choice.
Collins also believes that nominating Barr totally undermines Trump’s recent endorsement of sentencing reform.
And he could be right.
More Prisons, Jails, Courts and Prosecutors
This was H.W. Bush’s rally cry and, in his mind, the best way to combat drug use. So he subsequently increased the federal drug control budget to achieve that goal.
And William Barr, who just so happened to serve under H.W. Bush, shared in this rhetoric. In 1992, Barr sanctioned a report and stated the following:
Ask many politicians, newspaper editors, or criminal justice “experts” about our prisons, and you will hear that our problem is that we put too many people in prison. The truth, however, is to the contrary; we are incarcerating too few criminals, and the public is suffering as a result.
But that was 1992. So can we cut the guy some slack? Besides, drug policy today is a different animal than it was back then.
A Lot Can Change in 26 Years
Perhaps. But in 2015, Barr was still defending the current criminal justice system—including mandatory minimum sentences—and actively encouraged Congress to not bring up a sentencing reform bill.
This is not the time for Congress to disrupt a sentencing regime that strikes the right balance between all interests and has contributed to significant gains in reducing crime. We urge Congress to await the results of the significant federal sentencing initiatives that are already underway and to rigorously assess their impact before opening the doors of our federal prisons further through proposals like the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
Still, we can only speculate at this point. Because we have no idea how Barr, if confirmed by the Senate, will navigate conflicting state and federal marijuana laws.
And since Sessions moved this earlier to this year to rescind the so-called Cole memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement, Barr could inherit a Justice Department that no longer operates under the Obama-era policy of general non-intervention.
It’s also a department where his daughter, Mary Daly, works. As director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts, she’s established herself as an advocate for tougher criminal enforcement aimed at driving out the opioid epidemic. Irrelevant? Maybe.
But the apple obviously doesn’t fall far from the tree.
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