U.S. attorney general calls for reduced sentencing for drug crimes

U.S. attorney general changes course—what are Sacramento district-attorney candidates' priorities?

To read Eric Holder's entire speech, go to http://tinyurl.com/HolderPrios.
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

I was stunned a few weeks ago to hear U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder call for reduced sentencing for drug crimes.

In a speech before the American Bar Association in San Francisco, he pointed out that “since 1980, the federal prison population has grown at an astonishing rate—by almost 800 percent. It’s still growing. … Even though this country comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. … Almost half of them are serving time for drug-related crimes.”

Holder said that “draconian mandatory minimum sentences” should no longer be required for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

Holder is right. Clearly something has to be done. He spoke of the country’s failed war on drugs. Which never really was a war on drugs. Drugs are chemicals. You can’t put a drug in prison. The failed war on drugs was and is a war on us, our neighbors, our families, our loved ones and the majority of the American people that have used drugs, including our recent presidents.

Holder took a brave and important first step in the rethinking of United States’ drug policies. Clearly, he was nervous, like a junior-high boy asking a girl to a dance. He made this announcement on a slow news day. If the reaction was negative, he could always backtrack. Shocking to those who have made their political fortunes by being tough on crime, there was little negative reaction to Holder’s announcement. In this incredibly polarized time, the Obama haters are less excited about this than the president’s birth certificate.

But I’m confused. This is the same badass Holder who supports prosecuting landlords who rent space to medical-marijuana dispensaries, even though they are legal under state law. This is the same Holder whose San Diego U.S. attorney suggested that media companies should be prosecuted for running ads for medical-marijuana dispensaries, even though they are legal under state law. (I take this personally.) I’d like to hear him announce an end to these failed policies as well.

We also need to reform our law-enforcement priorities here in Sacramento. Just as the U.S. attorney generals have poorly prioritized their resources, so has Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully. For instance, even though county health officials had warned that blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis would increase without a needle-exchange program, Scully prosecuted Sacramento residents who were volunteering for needle-exchange programs, while she couldn’t find the resources needed to focus on prosecuting white-collar crimes.

But Scully is retiring. Here’s the question I’d like to ask both district-attorney candidates, Anne Marie Schubert and Maggy Krell, who have already raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for the 2014 race: How would you change the priorities of the current District Attorney’s office?

I will let you know their answers.