City Desk

Eric Holder, Extreme Drug Warrior

As if his soft stance on corruption wasn't sufficient evidence enough that Eric Holder is a questionable choice for attorney general, there's also his stance on drugs, which during his time as a U.S. Attorney in D.C. was too harsh.

In 1996, Holder proposed cracking down on marijuana users and sellers, a policy perspective which was and—assuming he still holds it—is completely antithetical to President-Elect Barack Obama's promise to end federal crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries.

What kind of legacy did Holder leave? Evidence abounds that the drug war has done nothing to help D.C.'s crime problem. The MPD are still investigating recent violence in Petworth, but it's likely that the crimes have a drug component, just as they do in Trinidad, Anacostia, on Kennedy Street, and in other parts of the District. Turf wars have become part and parcel of the drug trade, and are a direct result of law enforcement artificially driving up prices for drugs and limiting geographic opportunities for transactions.

The Washington Post on Holder's (failed) drug policies in 1996:

U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the D.C. Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana.

"We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling.

Now, people arrested in the District and charged with distributing marijuana, even large quantities, face only misdemeanor charges, a standard that has sparked repeated complaints by police officers....

Holder said he hopes to discourage some of that activity by being tougher on marijuana crimes. New guidelines should be in place by the end of the month, he said, noting that the District could learn from New York's "zero-tolerance" policy. There, crime plummeted when police aggressively enforced quality-of-life crimes, including panhandling and public drinking, which gave officers an opportunity to check for drugs, guns and outstanding warrants.

"If you take these so-called minor crimes seriously and treat them fully, it has a ripple effect," Holder said. [h/t to Dave Weigel]

BTW: New York's "zero-tolerance" policy wasn't a reform in any meaningful sense of the word. Instead, it gave the state license to lock away undesirables, of which—by N.Y.'s criteria—D.C. has more than a few.

Anyone care to bet against Holder finding a way to invest more money in the War on Drugs while still fulfilling Obama's promise to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries? My money says the latter will give them enough political capital to fuck over recreational users across the country.

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