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DOJ appears poised to crack down on marijuana possession

Is ordinary, adult use of marijuana a precursor to violent crime? Whether you think it is or not, ask yourself if putting recreational weed smokers behind bars is likely to be an effective strategy at combating violent crime.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions apparently thinks it would be, and it seems the president's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which Sessions leads, is likely to recommend that strategy, according to The Hill. Others aren't so sure.

"That's not the drug with which we see so much death and destruction on the streets of America," says the co-chair of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, who is also a former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department.

The director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program told The Hill that Sessions and other Justice Department officials have been explicitly linking immigration and marijuana use to violent crime.

"We're worried there's going to be something in the recommendations that is either saying that that's true or recommending action be taken based on that being true," he said.

Sessions is getting familiar with criticism from criminal justice reformers who had finally been making headway in some areas since the "Tough on Crime" 1980s. Harsh, mandatory-minimum sentences, especially for drug crimes, have caused much our over-incarceration crisis.

As we discussed on this blog at the time, Sessions reversed course on marijuana sentencing in May. His predecessor Eric Holder had instructed federal prosecutors not to seek harsh sentences for simple marijuana possession, but Sessions ordered them to seek the toughest appropriate sentence.

Also in May, according to The Hill, sessions urged Congress to do away with a budget amendment that restricts the Justice Department from interfering with states' efforts to legalize and regulate marijuana. He pointed to "an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime" and suggested that the DOJ should not have its prosecutorial discretion curtailed.

A majority of states now have laws legalizing marijuana for at least some purposes. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use. In Pennsylvania, possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana remains a criminal misdemeanor.

Sessions says he is expecting initial recommendations from the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety no later than July 27. 

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