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Eric Holder Acknowledges That the War on Drugs Is Racist

In an interview with NPR Eric Holder offered some real criticism of our failed War on Drugs. From NPR:

“The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” Holder said. “There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

That’s one reason why the Justice Department has had a group of lawyers working behind the scenes for months on proposals the attorney general could present as early as next week in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

Some of the items are changes Holder can make on his own, such as directing U.S. attorneys not to prosecute certain kinds of low-level drug crimes, or spending money to send more defendants into treatment instead of prison. Almost half of the 219,000 people currently in federal prison are serving time on drug charges.

The fact that the origin of the War on Drugs was rooted in racism and it has always been carried out in a way that disproportionately hurts minorities has been well documented for years. It is noteworthy when the top law enforcement official in the country publicly acknowledges this.

I sadly don’t expect these new proposals from Holder to diverge dramatically from the rather poor way the Obama administration has handled drug policy over the past four years. The administration has often talked about a new approach, but their actual use of resources hasn’t changed significantly. When the rubber meets the road the administration has not lived up to its promises on this issue. The aggressive actions towards medical marijuana dispensaries are just one example.

Still, this rhetorical shift is an improvement in its own right. When the person charged with carrying out the drug war is publicly admitting it has serious problems, it is a real sign that reformers are successfully changing the public narrative. Admitting there is a problem is the first step towards actually solving it.

Photo by USDAgov released under Creative Commons License

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at