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On February 24th, in a press briefing for the White House, Sean Spicer stated that the Federal government would be stepping up the war on drugs, specifically going after states that had legalized recreational marijuana. To many, this was a huge shock as the country has moved towards a more liberal view on marijuana. Spicer hastily cited the opioid crisis occurring in many parts of the country as the reason for increasing narcotics enforcement. This should come to no surprise to anyone thanks to the confirmation of attorney general Jeff Sessions a few weeks ago. Jeff Sessions believes in doubling down on the war on drugs and trying to put Federal pressure on states that legalized marijuana.
On other issues related to criminal justice like civil asset forfeiture, Sessions has taken a hard line stance , with him and Trump jokingly stating that they would end the career of a Texas state Senator trying to pass reform in his state on civil asset forfeiture. For those who don’t know, civil asset forfeiture is when the government seizes property, cash, vehicles, and even in some cases homes, from an individual, and the individual must prove that their property is not involved in criminal activity. In these cases, the prosecutor is also the judge and a lawyer is not required to be provided.
Obviously, this raises both 5th and 6th amendment concerns about such trials. In most states, the proceeds that are acquired from civil asset forfeiture have no restrictions on their usage with many police departments spending them for non department related expenses. John Oliver did an excellent episode covering this exact issue.
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Going back to Jeff Sessions, while Sessions has stated that he stands with rights like the 2nd amendment which are undoubtedly important, it seems that Sessions does not stand for the entirety of the bill of rights. More concerning is his strong desire to use these enhanced Federal powers to continue what many from both sides of the political spectrum see as a failure, which is the war on drugs. With billions of dollars in both Federal and State expenditures to fight what many economists and political scientists call a losing war, Sessions seems to want to continue the same failed policy.
This contrasts with what many countries around the world are moving towards (with the notable exception of the Philippines), which is drug decriminalization and a more civil based approach to drug laws. Notable examples of countries which have used such policies to great effect include Portugal and the Netherlands to name a few.
Many people in congress including senators Rand Paul and Cory Booker have pushed for criminal justice reform both on fiscal and social justice grounds. However now we know that at least during this administration, these initiatives will likely be placed on hold as Trump would most likely veto such legislation. The age of drug and criminal justice reform is over, at least for now.