President Obama has effectively declared war. In 2014, he and (then) Attorney General Holder illustrated how the war on drugs had led to mass incarceration and the disproportional demographic make-up of our prisons, and part of their plan to tackle the problem. At the time, I scoffed—there was no way President Obama would prioritize reforming drug policies over the vast amount of domestic issues he had already prioritized, notably climate change and gun control. It seemed more of a gentlemanly tip of the cap to the black community, than a genuine attempt to attack and potentially reform our criminal justice system and associated policies. It reminded me of the Fair Sentencing Act — helpful, but not a solution.
I was wrong.
The 46 sentences that the President commuted earlier this week may seem like a small number, but their meaning and impact are big. It shows a commitment to spending the time and allocating the resources necessary to live up to the promises he made in 2014. It shows that President Obama is ready to go to war on the war on drugs.
President Obama has commuted nearly 90 sentences, which is more than our last four Presidents combined. On Wednesday, at the NAACP National Convention, Obama called for legislation that would eliminate minimum sentences for drug-related crimes. The President even dived into the socio-economic reasons for needing reform given that the racial bias and subsequent disparities are so disgustingly obvious in our prisons, you would be a fool not to acknowledge them.
Over the last few days I’ve actually searched for those fools. I came up dry. It seems that nearly all politicians (and pundits) now understand that the drug-related policies we have enacted over the last few decades are just not sustainable. In fact, not only are they not sustainable, they don’t work.
Declaring a war to end the war is the only feasible way to provide any sort of reciprocity to the causalities—the millions of non-violent drug offenders that have been unnecessarily and unfairly swept up into the criminal justice system. It seems that both political sides are doing just that. The rhetoric is being backed up by action, at the very least in the White House.
From the 1980’s up until now, a war on drugs was declared by nearly every sitting President. Being “tough on crime” was the bipartisan middle ground that every politician could agree on. Interestingly enough, it’s the war on the war on drugs that is bringing everyone back to that same middle ground. While it is mainly rhetoric right now, the actions we have seen prove that there is meaningful change coming.