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Despite Sessions’ Tough Talk, Drug Prosecutions Are Down In 2017

Despite Sessions' Tough Talk, Drug Prosecutions Are Down So Far In 2017

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Despite Sessions’ Tough Talk, Drug Prosecutions Are Down In 2017

What’s the primary reason drug prosecutions are down so far in 2017? We can tell you one thing: it’s not because of the Trump administration’s draconian crackdown on drug policy.

While the current White House administration has been anything but shy in demanding a new crackdown on drugs like cannabis, it looks like it has nothing to do with the fact drug prosecutions are down so far in 2017.

According to a recent report published by Syracuse University’s Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) using data from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, there has been an obvious downturn in drug prosecutions this year alone. But despite the fact that the downward tack this year has coincided with Trump’s first year in office is only a coincidence. In reality, it’s a small fraction of a larger picture—one that speaks more to President Barack Obama’s legacy than Trump’s. 

Drug Prosecution Rates At A New Low

Despite Sessions' Tough Talk, Drug Prosecutions Are Down So Far In 2017

The numbers are part of a larger trend in decreasing federal drug prosecutions, ones that extend back into the pre-Trump age of 2016.

“The latest data from the Justice Department, current through June 2017, show that fewer drug offenders were federally prosecuted over the past 12 months than at any time during the last quarter century,” the TRAC report stated.

The downtick can be traced month-to-month: in June, only 1,578 new prosecutions for drug crimes, a 16.1 percentage drop from May. But it’s only indicative of a wider trend: a sharp but steady decline in prosecutions within the past five years. Or, as the TRAC report put it, the data shows that “drug prosecutions in U.S. district courts are down 27.6 percent from levels reported in 2012.”

In short: while Sessions might talk a big game, his particular strategy—in his words, “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense”—have had no real effect on the reason drug prosecutions are down so far in 2017. If anything, it’s the policies put in place during the Obama administration, such as lessening the severity of penalties for possession and rolling back on mandatory minimum sentences, that have made an actual impact.

Final Hit: Drug Prosecutions Are Down So Far In 2017

Despite Sessions’ draconian attempts to initiate policies that reflect his desire to, as he said, “create and foster a culture that’s hostile to drug use,” CBS News noted that many of his actions to eliminate the precedents set by the Obama administration are essentially doing him a disservice.

An example? So far, Sessions has 46 prosecutors—all holdovers from Obama’s presidency—to tender their resignations; the same prosecutors responsible for the drug prosecution decline. While replacements have been hired for these positions, many, if not all, have yet to be confirmed. In other words: Sessions has overseen a stasis, not instituted change. As of now, the DOJ has not commented on the matter.

J.E. Reich

J.E. Reich is a Brooklyn-based GRD staff writer and a former night/weekend editor at Jezebel. Their work has appeared in Slate, the Toast, the Forward, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere.

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