Tag Archives: Jeff Sessions

That Nefarious DOJ

A number of the tantrums thrown by Trump and his Congressional enablers have focused on imaginary conspiracies at the Department of Justice–especially the FBI. They accuse a so-called “deep state” of waging a “bogus” Russia “witch hunt.”

It’s a hard sell, because it is so obviously defensive horseshit. Besides, any “deep state” worth having  would take on Jeff Sessions, who is arguably an obscenity with no redeeming social value.

Sessions’ racist past had been amply documented prior to his appointment (back when the GOP cared about such things, it cost him a federal judgeship). He has been enthusiastic about Trump’s hard line on immigration; re-instituted widely criticized asset forfeiture laws; threatened to withhold criminal justice funds from Sanctuary cities; refused to allow DOJ to engage in oversight of police departments –even those with which it has current consent decrees; and rolled back everything from voting rights enforcement to protections for transgender citizens.

Now he’s threatening to reverse Eric Holder’s  policy of respecting state-level prerogatives when it comes to marijuana policy. Per the Brookings Institution:

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions opted to end a more than four-year-old policy that granted a safe haven for state-legal marijuana companies (and consumers) to engage in the cultivation, processing, sale, possession, and use of cannabis under tightly regulated conditions. This policy, known as the Cole Memo, was initially enacted during the Obama administration, in response to Colorado and Washington legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2012. The Cole Memo effectively told federal prosecutors not to bring cannabis-related cases in states that have legalized if and only if companies and consumers abide by a state-provided regulatory system and do not engage in other bad acts like engaging with drug cartels or selling to children.

Has the policy been perfect? No. Of course, no policy is. However, the Cole Memo did provide a system by which cannabis was no longer sold only by unregulated dealers and/or drug cartels. It provided safeguards and promoted the testing of products. It put states on notice to develop robust regulatory systems. It allowed an industry to move out of the shadows and into a system that taxed and regulated its products.

The Brookings analysis illustrates the utter stupidity of this decision. Ending these safeguards puts people at risk for adulterated product and increases ease of access for underage users. Studies show that legal access to marijuana decreases both underage use and opiod addiction. (Not that evidence has ever been a big part of this argument; our intrepid drug warriors have long ignored overwhelming data showing that weed is  far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.)

Sessions’ decision is a windfall for drug dealers (as the Brookings’ report notes, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions will find a lot of opponents to his decision today. But hey, at least he’ll have the support of drug dealers.”)  And it will be costly for taxpayers.

Chasing after the thousands of legal marijuana growers, processers, and dispensaries and the tens of thousands of people they employ will cost DEA significant amounts of federal tax dollars. Add to that the costs US Attorneys will incur prosecuting those individuals and representing the government on appeals.

Fortunately for Democrats running in 2018, this isn’t just stupid policy, it is terrible politics. As Daily Kos explained:

If Democrats are smart, they will finally nationalize the pot issue, and its impact could spread through the entire map. The more young voters turn out, the bigger the Democratic landslide will be. And a great step toward making that happen would be full-throated Democratic support for full legalization at the federal level. Heck, leave it up to the states to decide for themselves! But the feds need to get out of the business of banning marijuana. And as far as political calculations go, there is little downside to Democrats. The public supports recreational legalization by 2-1 margins, and medicinal legalization by 9-1 margins or even higher.

In the real world–the one that no one in this administration inhabits– insisting that marijuana is illegal won’t stop its production and distribution. It will keep states from imposing sensible regulations that keep it safe and out of the hands of minors, and it will prevent states from generating substantial funds by taxing it.

Where’s that “deep state” when you need it?

Good Things Still Happen!

The news isn’t all terrible. (Okay, mostly it is. But not all.) The GOP’s latest effort to strip healthcare from millions of Americans appears to be dead, and Patheos has reported on a rare and welcome bit of bipartisanship:

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved three amendments late Tuesday that would defund a notorious federal forfeiture program that was recently restored by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions…

Sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash, Tim Walberg, and Jamie Raskin and co-sponsored by Reps. Steve Cohen, Jim Sensenbrenner, and Mark Sanford, the amendments address so-called “adoptive” seizures and forfeitures. Under the federal adoption program, state and local law enforcement can seize property without filing criminal charges, and then transfer the seized property to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Local and state agencies can collect up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds.

This pernicious practice had been curtailed under former AG Holder, it has been reinstated by Sessions. The amendments cut off funding for the reinstated program. Political sentiment across the spectrum has shifted strongly against asset forfeiture; more than a dozen states have moved to restrict the practice over the past few years.

For those who may not be familiar with civil forfeiture, it is a practice that allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners of the property need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or real property to be confiscated by the government.

 

As the ACLU has explained,

Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.

 

After Sessions moved to restore the program, The Atlantic looked at the numbers, which are staggering:

Civil forfeiture has existed in some form since the colonial era, although most of the current laws date to the War on Drugs’ heyday in the 1980s. Law-enforcement officials like Sessions defend modern civil forfeiture as a way to limit the resources of drug cartels and organized-crime groups. It’s also a lucrative tactic for law-enforcement agencies in an era of tight budgets: A Justice Department inspector general’s report in April found that federal forfeiture programs had taken in almost $28 billion over the past decade, and The Washington Post reported that civil-forfeiture seizures nationwide in 2015 surpassed the collective losses from all burglaries that same year.

 

Civil forfeiture has always been problematic, even in theory. As practiced, it makes a joke of the rule of law, not to mention constitutional values like fundamental fairness and limited governmental authority.

 

Let’s hope the Senate follows the example set by the House, and tells Jeff Sessions there are limits to his regressive efforts.