Obama may give clemency to hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders

Call it an election year move to rally his base or call it a move that’s long overdue, or maybe even a little of both. Whatever the case may be, President Barack Obama and the Justice Department are considering granting clemency to hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders:

A Department of Justice review of the nation’s clemency system that could free thousands of prisoners was motivated by President Obama’s desire “to make sure that everyone has a fair shot,” the White House said Monday.

“He has asked the Department of Justice to set up a process aimed at ensuring that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated thoroughly,” press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.
[…]
That review is expected to place a special emphasis on non-violent drug offenders, and especially those given longer sentences for crack cocaine. In recent years, federal lawmakers have moved to reduce additional penalties for those in possession of crack, rather than powder, cocaine, in a bid to both reduce prison populations and the unequal prosecution of minorities.

There has been a bipartisan push in the Senate to reform the United States’ drug laws. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have introduced a measure to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.

Separately, though similarly, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) teamed up to address sentencing reforms for nonviolent crack cocaine offenders.

The public’s opinion of the war on drugs has soured. A Rasmussen Reports survey released in August found that 82 percent of American adults believe that the United States is losing the costly drug war.

While the move is definitely a step in the right direction, the timing is a little suspect. This comes more than five years into Obama’s presidency, during which his administration has targeted medical marijuana users even in states that allow its purchase.

Though this is welcome news, it comes as President Obama’s approval rating is hovers in the mid-40s and his base isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the mid-term election as Republicans. Those factors are an ominous sign for Democrats this fall.


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