Attorney General: Drug Sentences Need Reform, Too Many In Prison

In an interview earlier this week with National Public Radio, US Attorney General Eric Holder publicly acknowledged the obvious:

-There are too many citizens in prison on low level drug charges

-The mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines employed by the federal government should be reformed

-The inherent outcome of the federal criminal justice system affirms serious racial disparities exist


Holder: “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

“[W]e can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together to look at this whole issue and come up with changes that are acceptable to both.”

Listen to interview here.

The Drug Policy Alliance has multiple suggestions on how President Obama and Attorney General Holder ‘can go big’ in their last three years in office to substantively reform the failed war on some drugs.

43 thoughts

  1. OMG!!! Hell must have frozen over. It seems that Holder is actually saying something that makes sense; or am I misunderstanding?

  2. The picture with the President Obama, We CANnabis is the Bomb!!!

    The more STATES that legalize Cannabis, the more the Gov’t WILL have to CHANGE their PROHIBITION Policies…one State at a time…**20 States and counting!!! WOW

    To: Holder…You have incaserated, All, who at heart are the very people who are part of the Cannabis Family for eons. Every thing the white’s have learned about cannabis, including The Arts and Sciences of; Education, usage, Research, and applications, startin business, classifying the strains, and selling it back to consumers for profit. At the risk of keeping white’s youths out of prision, so they can advance ahead of their counter parts by prove WHAT???

    That white’s have a LAW that protects them no matter what they want to accomplish their goals, at anybody’s expense of; The LOST of life, Dignity, and self respect, wages family, friends, religion, your Dreams.

    Knowing, one day the veil of Deceit will be exposed; laid wide open like a filet fish right for the pilate; Do Not Tread of This!!! WELL, NOW what?? Mr Holder The Veil of Deceit has a huge Hold in it FASE TRUTH; correct this Falasy, Now!!!

  3. Chimpeachment time! When a child lies, the child is supposed to be punished. When a POTUS deals in lies, he is supposed to be sent packing. “I am not a crook!” didn’t work 4 decades ago. Standards have apparently dropped. A nation that has no respect for truth is not going to endure. One guy said his would last 1000 years and his best pitch was The Big Lie. 12 years later his dead body was laying burned in ruins along with the nation that believed in him.

  4. I think that this is it. I think this is Joe Biden coming out in support for gays “ahead” of schedule. This is the Obama way. Have someone in his admin. go and check the water before he does a swan dive into the pool. I think we are talking months until the end of this failed war on drugs in it’s current incarnation. I think marijuana will become a state issue and that the federal government will reclassify it out of it’s schedule 1 classification and cease federal funding for the enforcement of marijuana regulation as long as no local laws are being broken. I might be being naive, but I think this is what’s going to happen. We will have to wait and see.

  5. Even if the demon himself, Holder, acknowledged his past sin… it won’t atone for all the lives he has helped ruin. How is he even still in office? I’m not just talking cannabis.

  6. Please stay cool about this. There are those that are trying to keep prohibition alive and they would say the most hateful things towards you and mocking your illness by saying, “You just wanted to get high”.

  7. They just need to legalize it period. Not only for medical but for sacramental, recreational, and just to feel good, open the third eye, mediate, etc etc etc. How can they evaluate who is qualified for marijuana. It has many preventive agents for those who use it who are not even sick. Why do we have to wait until we get sick to even use it. For the thousands of years its been used the term Medical Marijuana never even existed. Its always been used for more than juse medicine. Its just a herb for all just free it up use it enjoy all the benefits of it.

  8. It feels like the planet finally reversed polarity. Congradulations NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and LEAP. There’s a long fight ahead to hold Holder to his word… but thanks to persistent activism, both American and international, Change is gonna come real soon.

  9. Holder acknowledged that which NORML’s audience has realized for all too long. Now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, it’s time to draft and pass some new legislation to correct the issues at present.

  10. I saw this news last night on the ‘net and couldn’t help but celebrate. I know there are plenty of posters here who don’t feel any need to thank Holder; and I certainly don’t blame them.

    But I for one will say thank you Eric Holder (and by extension Pres. Obama). Thank you for coming around, however belatedly.

    Please don’t disappoint me.

  11. It’s Coming My Fellow Americans! WE must now be steadfast in our movement than ever! Woooo!

  12. It’s REALLY interesting how he says the “legislative and executive” branches should deal with this issue. He left out the judicial branch (the justice system). He is all but saying that it should no longer be criminalized, and should be hammered out through laws and leadership.

  13. How is the War on Drugs 30-40 years old?

    Pot has been illegal everywhere for 75 years, and probably 100 years for many states.

    Also, the federal system doesn’t lock up many low level drug offenders. There’s probably nobody in Federal prison for smoking a joint. If you’re caught with a quantity which isn’t by the kilo the Feds will normally hand you over to the local authorities for state prosecution. I heard the cut-off for growing is 100 plants for the Federal prosecutors to get involved.

    [Editor’s note: The so-called war on drugs was officially launched by President Nixon in his first term. How has it worked?]

  14. It’s just starting to turn ! This statement would actually upset some political lobbies such as the private prisons and law enforcement who have previously been allowed to dictate policy. Maybe it is a warning shot to those who want to keep prohibition – asking them to come up with better arguments or allegiances will shift to the legalisation movement. Maybe Obama sees this as his crowning glory – a sudden change of heart just before he leaves office.
    Good news anyway and I am sure the pace of change is increasing.

  15. This may be good, and might, yet, be a mess.

    By merely changing sentencing,
    and “what we tell our prosecutors to charge”,
    the whole issue of legality really doesn’t change. There is nothing in there about reclassification, legalization, or even a logical scientific basis for debate regarding legalization.

    Instead, it reads similar to ‘keep all the ‘drugs’ illegal, yet reword the sentencing’

    While, it is largely accurate that, of the records and statistics kept, that racial minorities are disproportionately charged for many of the drug offenses – the relevance of race as pertains to sentencing is a disaster waiting to happen.

    I am not saying that he is implying we should calculate sentencing by factoring race-
    I am saying,
    ‘if he is not saying this, what is he saying?’

  16. If this is a true step towards decriminalization, I’d be so very appreciative. Yet I’m quite skeptical so far.

    What was said, is vague enough to appease and distract. Sounds like a way to increase “drug treatment” for personal cannabis possession! An attempt to profit in a more socially acceptable way, against citizens that police prefer to violate the civil rights of. You can place your hope for the meaning however you like, doesn’t mean it will happen.

    For now, this vague talk of “drug treatment” is closer to a threat of actions unsupported by the people. Removing mandatory minimums sounds great, but not if there will be “drug treatment” placed onto low level offenses, including personal possession/grows that may otherwise be fines/community service. Sounds paranoid perhaps, but keep in mind, the Government has an interest to still profit, they aren’t talking about legalization/medicalizing.

    [Editor’s note: Attorney General Holder is scheduled to speak in San Francisco on Monday afternoon before a meeting of the American Bar Association, where there is speculation that he may make more public remarks about America’s criminal justice system and needed reforms.]

  17. Dear Attorney General,

    Now that you wont have responsible cannabis users to keep the Private Prison Industry going, fear not, you can still fill those beds by just making “hard and designer drug” sentencing harsher and less lenient. In fact, you can start on WALL STREET. COCAINE, PILLS AND PROSTITUTE PARTIES EVERY WEEKEND AND MOST WEEKNIGHTS TOO!! Wall Street parties good sirs, thats where you can go to find real drug use. Sure they can buy themselves out of jail time but if say you implement a TWO STRIKE system….You’ll fill those jails quickly!
    If you can get undercover cops to infiltrate Gangs and bust their drug operations, surely you can get an informant on Wall Street so you can bust those cocaine and pill parties, keeping those prison population quotas going. Drunk driving three-strike laws…make them a Two-strike law, why give someone three chances to kill innocent people on the road? So Mr. Holder, when you meet with these private prison folks just tell them you have a plan that will ensure the private prison industry thrives after the end of cannabis prohibition.


    A United States Citizen

  18. I just spent 6 months in federal prison followed by 6 months house arrest then 3 years of probation for 1 oz of marijuana, that’s right, 1 OUNCE!! Change needs to happen.

  19. Holder’s spoken some really good rhetoric here, but considering that this is a do-nothing Congress and a do-nothing Administration when it comes to all things pro-cannabis legalization, I’ll have to wait and judge the man on this issue by his actions. Talk is cheap. Holder is talking the talk, but will he walk the walk? I’ll be surprised if he actually does anything pro-cannabis.

  20. @Gweedo: The Supreme Court is pro cannabis. And the DEA is late on negotiations. California is late (well, on everything… Let’s be honest) but particularly on complying with the Supreme Court ruling a few years back that demanded California reduce its prison population from %175+ to -%125 capacity. Then it was discovered by a non for profit media group in Los Angeles last week that drug rehabs are so corrupt, they found a couple of cons running inflated names in a ponzi scheme worth $90million for that one faux-rehab this year alone. ( California prisoners have been on a 2 month hunger strike. It appears to be working.
    The fundemental point of having three branches of governemnt (legislative, judicial and executive) is to maintain checks and balances. The fundemental problem for Holder and the whole Department of Justice is that the lines have been blurred between executive and legislative authority since Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court by enforcing the Indian Removal Act with the same executive privelege he campaigned against, way back in the 1830’s. Then after the Civil War in 1864 during reconstruction slave families were no longer broken up by the auction block, but now from the even more violent prison chain gangs that forced prisoners across the south to die in coal mines and the fields. The private prison complex began in the U.S. and even white people could be enslaved again once the Army Core of Engineers drained the eastern swamps and malaria was reduced.
    But then we get to 1970, and Nixon took executive privelege to a whole new level. Executive Privelege was added into the original Controlled Substance Act signed by Nixon. The newly formed DEA knew what they were doing was unconstitutional and the attorney general would need protection from being prosecuted or investigated. The amendment to the C.S.Act that corrupted our Justice System was the one that allowed the DEA to effectively legislate marijuana policy without Congressional oversight.
    Think about this for a minute: the attorney general is not supposed to write our laws. Its bad enough Nixon allowed corporate lobbyists to take that role from Congress in his other evil law, the Economic Stability Act. The Attorney General is our nation’s top law enforcer– that makes the DOJ an executive agency. But Congress in 1970 gave cops the power to write their own laws. So what did they do first to amend the C.S.Act?
    1)executive privelege- used by every president from Andrew Jackson to Obama’s Fast and Furious scandal to cover up crimes against humanity (F&F: where the DEA sold weapons to the Mexican military while the ATF sold guns to Mexican cartels under “tracer” programs only the gun cartel known as the ATF can legally trace.)
    2) asset forfeitures- which basically allow the DEA to use conjured and fabricated evidence from their once secret SOD program to obtain flimsy warrants from judges who receive “kickbacks” (bribes) from seized assets with people in posession of drugs: money, cars, houses, souls, you name it: the DEA bought some ammunition and some judges signatures with it. International drug enforcement and interdiction is 1.5 billion dollars of the 17 billion dollar drug war budget even without asset forfeitures to run circles around Congressional oversight. We continue to spend less on drug treatment and prevention (and we can see from Southern California where all that money goes).
    3) Last but not least on the bad C.S.Act funding initiative by the DEA called the SOD evidence fabrication program. This is the link between the DOJ and private prison and detention corruption, which makes up the lion’s share of our defecit when we add up the cost of private prisons, kickbacks to governors and judges, the arrested development of targeted minority communities (pointed out by Holder as an “unintended consequence” of the drug wars)…
    But perhaps most important we have a clear vision of how fabricated evidence has spread corruption into every agency and Department, even the Department of Health and Human Services of the U.S., creating an untold personal cost to families such as the one in Roundrock that lost custody to their 2 year old daughter Alexandria for smoking pot after bedtime: The parents were charged with neglect. Little Alex was beaten to death by her foster parent despite the father’s complaints for bruises during visitation because States like Texas contract out to private contractors to determine whether foster care contractors are qualified for the job. Needless to say, the private contractors have a conflict of interest in reporting their foster care providers to authorities, effectively legalizing child incarceration, extortion, child abuse, and state funded torture of people with nonviolent posessions of cannabis. Private detention and treatment reform alone could save the U.S. tens of billions of dollars a year… And perhaps even save our national dignity.
    In conclusion, executive privelege and the Controlled Substance Act are resonsible for the unconstituional merger of the Executive and Legislative branches of the U.S. Holder is “holding out” for a settlement because if the C.S.Act hits the supreme court it will have to be nullified. So next time a Danny Chong comes around, let’s create a fund to donate for legal fees, hospital bills, school and rent and sue the DEA based on being uncostituionally organized. Collateral settlement is the purchase of our freedom to keep bad laws out of court.
    Does that answer your question Gweedo?

  21. We shall see if this is puffery or if any real reform will happen, we will just wait and see, but never forget fast & furious Holder.

  22. Darrell
    I will believe it when I see it. The war on drugs has not worked at all, just a bunch of tax payers money pissed off. They will never stop it, it has been around since God made the world. If it does happen I will be glad because this crap around here isnt worth a damn.

  23. Even if some smoke “just” to get high, so what? People drink alcohol everyday JUST to get drunk and smoke cigarettes JUST to feel stimulated… They dont drink to cure illnesses like glaucoma, aids and kemo and others… No, just to get drunk

    Has the video from today. Eric Holder is pitching his bid for lowered sentences for nonviolent drug offenders to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.
    He’s talking 80 billion dollars. He’s talking unsustainable.
    The news hour report starts with the statistics; the U.S. is %5 of the world’s population and we hold more than a quarter of the world’s prisoners.
    Look at Mr. Holder’s body language. Who is he scared of?

  25. My pain management doctor is threatening to dismiss me from the practice because I test positive for marijuana. Stay away from South Carolina internal medicine. And I think they may have turned my name in to law enforcement.what a piece of work they are.Thanks Dr. Guram.By the way,a mothnly urine test is required at a cost of$549.00.

  26. To Jmes. I to have lost my pain management doctor because I tested pos for MJ. I don’t even use regularly. Couldn’t get an appointment for weeks, so I did what I needed to, too sleep so I could work the next day. If he reported it or not is his problem, I’d sue him if ever I found out. Doctor patient relation. Truth though, I’m sick of my government pushing there tired moral stupid mindless self serving BS at me. Go get drunk capital losers.

  27. The reason for this change by Eric Holder and others is because the “cat is out of the bag” so to speak. Here in my state of WA and also in CO, the people said “enough” we are going to fully legalize pot because we know not only is the war on drugs a failure, but we now know that our government has lied to us for over 40 years. The Dept. of Health and Human Services has know for eons that marijuana both with high THC or high in Cannabinoids is real medicine. Our government has the patent:The U.S. Patent Office issued patent #6630507 to the U.S.Health and Human Services filed on 2/2/2001. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. That classification contradicts mounds of evidence showing marijuana to be a very safe and effective medicine. Marijuana is more effective, much less expensive, and much safer than many drugs currently used in its place. Marijuana can provide excellent relief for those who suffer from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, insomnia, and depression and seizures to name a few.

    Eric Holder of the Justice Dept. is “lightening up” on drug sentences and incarcerations because of severe pressure by the African American community that their young men mostly are being unfairly targeted to go to prison benefiting the greedy prison for profit industry. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired so now we see the change coming.

    *If your state does not legalize marijuana-then move just like if you were gay and wanted to get married. It’s that simple. Our family moved out of Texas because it is a police state, and wanted to live in a state that promotes fairness and equality. Move because you only live once.

  28. You had me until “move out of Texas” Deborah. You are on point over problems at the federal level, but real change happens at the local level. We have a responsibility to correct corruption in the lands where we’re born, live and love, work and play, sin and pray, spend and pay taxes and die. (Which could be different lands at different times of our lives, but nonetheless we must protect where our seeds are sown). Texas is my home. Texas the land of my people. Texas will see the end of cannabis prohibition overall, although cannabis regulation may break up from county to county.

    Also the executive director for the Marijuana Policy Project just moved to Austin and Norml is working with them to set up a full time lobby.
    And the abusive murder of 2 year old Alexandra Hill in Round Rock TX is far from over. (www.facebook/ Norml is in contact with the Hill’s lawyer to organize a protest as soon as the legal investigation is over. Any plans to get this on CNN Tom?
    As far as Eric Holder, the drug wars, and mandatory minimums it’s mostly politics setting up the Democrats for pro-cannabis reform during Congressional elections next year. Holder’s “suggestive executive order” still has great potential, but it’s no Act of Congress. All Holder is telling prosecuters to do in front of the ABA is to stop writing down the “amount” of drugs in posession. That way the laws don’t change, but Judges don’t have to set a guy in small posessions in prison for 10 years as long as the quantity of drugs isn’t being written down to activate mandatory minumum sentencing; which remains in place.
    If we want to change the Controlled Substance Act we have to
    1). Continue to donate to Norml with lobbyists on our side of the battle at the state and local level.
    2)Get involved:,, and the Drug Policy Alliance are good starts from here.
    3)Take cannabis prohibition to the pro cannabis Supreme Court. Clearly, the C.S.Act has compromised our executive and legislative branches from either competence or constitutionality. The Supreme Court needs to recognize that Cops should not being doing the job of Congress, or vice versa.
    The good thing is that the funding has already changed on prohibition propoganda. Just look at the brilliant political commentary by Jessica Williams at the Daily Show over the Stop and Frisk verdict by a New York Federal judge.
    She’s standing in front of Wall Street (Well, OK, it’s a Daily Show studio backdrop of Wall street, but we get the point…) profiling the “disproportionate number of white collar crimes committed by white, suit-and-ties with slick-backed hair and a propensity to bet against their own investor’s investments.”
    “Hey… some of my best FRIENDS are white guys in suit and ties… I’m just SAYING…”
    THAT is the kind of scientific reporting we need in America; Turning the tables of America’s drug policies from the victims on to the profiteers of prohibition.

  29. US Attorney General Eric Holder is inept. He is still just recycling tired old BS. He still wants your life to be fucked by their wack rules, he just wants you to spend a little less time in jail. This guy is fucking retarded. That isn’t just empty rhetoric, his moral compass just spins any which way.

  30. Weed will not get legalized because in 2008 the supreme court stated that corparations and private citzens should no longer have a cap on donations to campains. This means that all politics is a about money for real now. There is no democracy there is just money. So we should demand that there be a low a cap on campain contributions and lobbing should not be allowed.

  31. Because weed helps with so many desieses farmcudical companies will fight this tooth and nail.

  32. Uh hey I am a white guy and I got incarcerated for weed so shut up about the white guy is protected stuff. You know who you are.

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