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Debating Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump’s new war on drugs




U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) attend a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) attend a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 29, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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Since taking office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly touted his goals of reducing the recent national uptick in violent crime.

In February, during his speech as a newly-minted attorney general at a National Association of Attorneys General gathering, Sessions vowed to do what he could to combat the trend. He attributed the country’s rise in violent crime rates to a nationwide increase in drug use, echoing the sentiment of the war on drugs during the 1980’s that resulted in long sentences for many minority defendants.

“It happened in the 70’s and I think it could happen now,” he told the gathering. “I think we all have a charge to do better.”

In May, Sessions followed up on that charge by ordering his staff to crack down on nonviolent drug users, including pursuing mandatory minimum sentences for defendants. The move undid former attorney general Eric H. Holder’s policy of avoiding charging certain defendants with offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences.

Sessions’ decision was met with chagrin from both sides of the aisle. In a statement, Holder called the move, “dumb on crime.”

Last month, the Justice Department also gave state and local law enforcement the power to bypass potentially restrictive state laws and invoke federal law to seize the personal property of people suspected, but not charged, of crimes.

Opponents to the practice, called civil asset forfeiture, say police could easily abuse the privilege, stripping innocent people of their right to due process. There are also questions on how Sessions might crack down on marijuana, now legal in California, but prohibited at the Federal level.

Will Sessions’ rollbacks of the previous administration’s policies aid law enforcement? What will be the implications for drug policy and criminal justice in California?

Guests:

Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the labor union representing LAPD officers

Edward Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress; he was a former Department of Justice prosecutor and former assistant district attorney for Manhattan

Jeffrey Zinsmeister, executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a group that opposes marijuana legalization; he worked in Mexico with the U.S. State Department on drug and anti-corruption issues, 2012 to 2014