Eric Holder

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U.S.: Former Attorney General Eric Holder Says Reschedule Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Former Attorney General Eric Holder -- who once had the power to unilaterally begin the process of rescheduling marijuana, but didn't use it -- now says he agrees that cannabis should be reclassified under federal law.

"I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled," Holder said in a newly published interview with PBS. "You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

“It’s nice to have Holder’s support for this sensible policy change, but it would have been a lot better if he’d exercised the power to get marijuana rescheduling done while he was still in office," Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, told Hemp News on Wednesday morning. "We know that Holder and President Obama are good friends, so I hope the former attorney general encourages his former boss and his successor Loretta Lynch to follow through during these final months of the administration and get the job done.

"There’s absolutely no reason marijuana should be in Schedule I, and it would be absurd to keep passing the buck to Congress when federal law clearly gives the administration the power to act," Holder said.

U.S.: Department of Justice Admits Lying To Congress About Medical Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The U.S. Justice Department warned Congress last year that a medical marijuana provision included in an appropriations bill could "limit or possibly eliminate the Department's ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well." But it turns out that was wrong, according to a just-revealed DOJ memo.

The "informal talking points" obtained by Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell were "intended to discourage passage" of the provision, which passed and was signed into law, reports Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post.

The memo was written by the chief of the Justice Department's appellate section and dated February 27, 2015. In it, the DOJ says the provision does not place "any limitations on our ability to investigate and prosecute crimes involving recreational marijuana."

The memo's talking points were repeated by a number of House members who opposed the medical marijuana provision.

Andy Harris (R-Maryland), one of the worst enemies of medicinal cannabis in the entire House, claimed "the amendment as written would tie the DEA's hands beyond medical marijuana." Rep. John Fleming (R-Louisiana) claimed that the provision would "take away the ability of the Department of Justice to protect our young people ... it would just make it difficult, if not impossible, for the DEA and the Department of Justice to enforce the law."

U.S.: President Obama Grants Clemency To 46; Will Push For Criminal Justice Reform

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Obama to Address Mass Incarceration at NAACP Convention Tuesday and Become First President to Visit a Prison on Thursday

"I believe at its heart, America is a land of second chances." ~ President Barack Obama

Drug Policy Alliance: We Can’t End Mass Incarceration Until We End Drug War

President Barack Obama on Monday commuted the sentences of 46 people incarcerated in federal prison. This follows the commutation of eight people incarcerated in federal prison for drug offenses in December of 2014, and 22 in March 2015. Fourteen of the people who received commutations on Monday were serving life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

In taking this step, the President has now issued nearly 90 commutations, the vast majority of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug law violations under draconian sentencing laws. President Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

"We can’t end mass incarceration until we end the drug war. The President's actions today are welcome, but we need much more action," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. "The public overwhelmingly supports ending the drug war and letting states decide their own drug policies. It's long past time to rectify the US's embarrassing record on mass incarceration."

California: Bill To Rein In Forfeiture Abuses Sails Through Senate On 38-1 Vote

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Overwhelming Bipartisan Support for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Nationwide Gains Momentum with Sacramento Vote

Civil asset forfeiture reform legislation, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), on Wednesday won nearly unanimous approval in the California State Senate with a 38-1 vote.

Co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU and the Institute for Justice, SB 443 will require law enforcement agencies in the State of California to adhere to state laws regarding civil asset forfeiture, rather than transferring cases to federal prosecutors and courts where property rights and evidentiary standards are much lower.

SB 443 also calls for appointing counsel for indigent property owners and allows the recovery of attorney’s fees for successful challenges. Additionally, the bill will protect guiltless spouses and family members from loss of property, and result in increased investment in the General Fund, in courts, and in public defense for the indigent, as well as funding for law enforcement and prosecutors.

“Asset forfeiture inflicts the harsh punishments associated with criminal proceedings without the constitutional protections guaranteed by a trial," said Lynne Lyman, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "In practice, this means encouraging law enforcement to engage in questionable and unethical practices under the banner of the war on drugs.

"Today’s vote is a tremendous step in the right direction,” Lyman said.

U.S.: Senate Confirms Loretta Lynch For Attorney General

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The U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon confirmed the nomination of Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General in a 56-43 vote. The results of the vote have been highly anticipated, as significant partisan bickering had stalled her appointment for months.

Lynch is the first African-American woman to hold the office of Attorney General, the nation’s top law enforcement position and head of the Department of Justice. Her statements made in the Senatorial confirmation hearing indicate she intends to follow Holder’s legacy of prioritizing civil rights.

Criminal justice experts hope this means she will continue and expand the drug policy reforms enacted by her predecessor.

“Loretta Lynch will hopefully continue the more positive aspects of Eric Holder’s legacy,” said Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group opposed to the Drug War. “We hope she continues to restore sanity and dignity to the profession of policing by de-escalating the War On Drugs and allowing states to proceed with marijuana legalization.”

U.S.: Smackdown! Congressmen Tell Justice Department To Halt Medical Marijuana Prosecutions

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In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) refuted the Justice Department’s recent interpretation of a spending provision intended to protect state medical marijuana laws and confirmed that any criminal or civil action against medical marijuana providers is a violation of federal law. The full letter is available at http://www.mpp.org/DOJletter.

The letter comes in response to statements made last week by a Justice Department spokesman to The Los Angeles Times. In the article, the spokesman said the Justice Department can still prosecute medical marijuana cases, notwithstanding the spending restriction adopted by Congress. The full article is available at http://mppne.ws/1a6F6bb.

In the letter, the Congressmen call the Justice Department’s interpretation “emphatically wrong” and ask Holder to “bring [the] Department back into compliance with federal law” by halting prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions in states with medical marijuana laws.

U.S. DOJ Says It Will Prosecute People for Medical Marijuana Despite Congressional Ban

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Drug Policy Alliance Calls on President Obama to Rein in Out-of-Control Prosecutors

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week told the Los Angeles Times that a bipartisan amendment passed by Congress last year prohibiting DOJ from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws doesn’t prevent it from prosecuting people for medical marijuana or seizing their property.

The statement comes as the agency continues to target people who are complying with their state medical marijuana law. This insubordination is occurring despite the fact that members of Congress in both parties were clear that their intent with the amendment was to protect medical marijuana patients and providers from federal prosecution and forfeiture.

“The Justice Department is ignoring the will of the voters, defying Congress, and breaking the law,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder need to rein in this out-of-control agency.”

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twelve states have laws on the books regulating cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a non-psychotropic component of medical marijuana which some parents are utilizing to treat their children’s seizures. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for non-medical use.

U.S.: President Obama Commutes Drug Sentences For 22 People

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentences of 22 federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. This follows the commutation of eight federal inmates convicted of drug offenses by President Obama in December of 2014.

According to White House counsel Neil Eggleston, “Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime."

"While today’s announcement represents important progress, there’s more work ahead," Eggleston said. "The Administration will continue to work to review thoroughly all petitions for clemency."

Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimum and harsh sentencing guidelines. The Obama Administration also promised improvements in the commutation process.

Yet, despite his Administration's declared support of substantive criminal justice reform, until now Obama has used his power to grant clemency less frequently than nearly all other U.S. Presidents.

U.S.: Attorney General Eric Holder Ends Incentive For Law Enforcement To Seize Property

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Property Seizures by Local and State Police Often Conducted Under Pretext that Property Is Connected to Illegal Drugs

Advocates Applaud Holder for New Policy, Urge Congress to Make Reforms Permanent

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday issued an order establishing a new policy prohibiting federal agencies from accepting civil asset forfeiture assets seized by state and local law enforcement agencies unless the owner is convicted of a crime. The U.S. Treasury Department, which has its own forfeiture program, is issuing a similar policy.

The new policy will greatly restrict the ability of state and local police forces to use fedeal law to seize goods without charging an individual with a crime. Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which authorities seize property alleged to have been involved in a crime, charge the property directly, since goods do not have the same constitutional protections as their owners, and then keep most of the proceeds for departmental use.

The Department of Justice becomes involved after a state or local law enforcement agency seizes property pursuant to state law and requests that a federal agency take the seized asset and forfeit it under federal law.

U.S.: President Obama To Commute Sentences For 8 In Drug Cases

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President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses. Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a statement saying that the eight individuals "were sentenced under outdated and unfair laws," and "their punishments did not fit their crime."

Half of the eight whose sentences were commuted had been sentenced to life imprisonment, reports NPR.

The step could lead to a vast expansion of presidential clemency during Obama's last two years in office, reports Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press.

The eight new commutations include Barbara Scrivner, who was sentenced to 30 years in 1995, when she was 27 years old, for a minor rule in her husband's methamphetamine ring. The President ordered Scrivner's sentence to expire on June 12, while the others will expire April 15.

The President commuted the sentences of at least four people who were serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, reports the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

U.S.: New Sentencing Guidelines Could Shorten Drug Sentences For Thousands In Federal Prison

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U.S. Sentencing Commission Reforms Take Effect on Saturday

Change is Latest Step to Reduce Mass Incarceration and Scale Back Failed Drug War

Changes to federal drug sentencing guidelines take effect on Saturday, November 1, and courts may begin considering petitions from incarcerated individuals for sentencing reductions. Thousands of people who are currently serving long, punitive drug-related sentences in federal prisons could be eligible to apply, although no one who benefits from this reform may be released for another year, or prior to November 1, 2015.

The changes taking effect on Saturday follow a July 2014 vote by the United States Sentencing Commission to retroactively apply an amendment approved by the same government panel in April 2014 that lowers federal guidelines for sentencing people convicted of drug trafficking. Beginning on Saturday, federal judges may begin referencing the reduced guidelines in the course of sentencing people convicted of drug trafficking and individuals who were sentenced under the old drug sentencing guidelines may begin petitioning a federal judge for a hearing to evaluate whether their sentence can be shortened to match the reduced guidelines.

The underlying drug guidelines amendment that shortened the length of drug sentencing guidelines was approved by the United States Sentencing Commission and submitted to Congress for review in April. Congress has taken no action to disapprove of these reforms to the drug guidelines, setting the stage for these reforms to take effect on Saturday.

U.S.: Federal Court To Hear Evidence On Whether Marijuana Is Misclassified As Dangerous Drug

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Meanwhile, federal Drug Enforcement Administration carries out latest raid on Los Angeles area medical marijuana dispensaries

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California will hold rare formal hearings beginning Monday, October 27, to determine whether an indictment against Brian Justin Pickard and others for conspiracy to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants violates the U.S. Constitution, and whether marijuana is misclassified by the federal government as a dangerous Schedule I drug with no medical value.

What: Evidentiary hearing with several expert witnesses to review the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance

When: Starting Monday, October 27, 9 am and continuing to Wednesday, October 29

Where: Sacramento Federal Court, 501 I Street, Sacramento, Californbia

U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller will preside over the three-day hearing, which includes expert testimony from Drs. Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, Greg Carter, medical director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington, retired physician Phillip Denny, as well as author, consultant, and expert witness Chris Conrad.

U.S.: Former Race Car Driver Randy Lanier To Be Released From Life In Prison For Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Federal marijuana prisoner Randy Lanier, 60, a former race car driver, will be released from prison after serving 26 years of a life sentence at the high-security Federal Correction Complex of Coleman in Florida for a 1988 conviction on leading a marijuana drug ring.

U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert has granted a motion by the federal government to reduce Lanier's life sentence and has approved his pending release, reports Jon Saraceno at Autoweek.com. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. endorsed a proposal to reduce sentencing for convicted drug dealers, while seeking to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

"He has served his time with dignity and respect," said Stephen Ross Johnson, lead attorney for Lanier since 2002. "He has helped mentor young people in the prison system."

The brief order issued by Judge Gilbert gives no reason for the sentence reduction. In addition to his life sentence, Lanier was given an additional maximum of 40 years on a distribution charge and another five years on an IRS fraud charge.

Lanier's release comes with heavy restrictions, including drug-and-alcohol tests, no consumption of alcohol or patronizing of establishments that sell it, no firearms, and no lines of credit without approval from his probation officer.

New York: Governor Asks DOJ To Allow New York To Get Medical Marijuana From Other States

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Patients, Families, and Advocates Thank Cuomo For Federal Request, But Urge Additional State Action to Save Lives of Critically Ill Patients

Patients Call on Governor to Create State-Based Emergency Access Program

The Cuomo Administration on Friday sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Cole following up on an earlier letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, sent on August 13. Both letters asked the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) to extend a narrow, time-limited exception to federal law to allow the importation of certain strains of medical marijuana from other states for use by children in New York with severe forms of epilepsy.

The letters follow the deaths of several children and a sustained campaign by advocates pressuring the Cuomo Administration to create an interim emergency access program for patients who may not survive the 18 months or longer that the governor has said he needs to get the full medical marijuana program up and running. New York passed a medical marijuana bill that Governor Cuomo signed into law in July, but the Administration has said the program won’t be up and running until at least January of 2016.

To establish emergency access for patients in need, medical marijuana can either be produced within New York state, or, with appropriate federal clearances, acquired from a different jurisdiction. The Cuomo Administration’s letters address one of those two options.

U.S.: Attorney General Holder To Resign; Will His Replacement Follow Through On Reform?

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AG Holder Made Unprecedented Efforts to Address Mass Incarceration and Failed Drug War

Drug Policy Alliance Calls On President Obama to Appoint Replacement Who Will Follow Through on Crucial Criminal Justice Reforms

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday announced that he will be resigning from office once a replacement is found. Drug policy and criminal justice reform advocates expressed disappointment he is leaving office, praising his leadership and calling on President Obama to nominate a replacement who will carry on Holder’s reform work.

Holder's career as AG, which spanned five and a half years, included a number of drug policy reforms to which he reconfirmed his commitment in a Thursday interview with Katie Couric. In the interview, Holder said science should be the basis for making decisions about the scheduling of marijuana, and that the sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders is a serious civil rights issue.

“Holder will go down in history as the Attorney General who began unwinding the war on drugs and steering our country away from mass incarceration,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “President Obama should replace him with someone who is going to carry on that legacy of reform.”

U.S.: Senators Ask White House To Clarify Federal Marijuana Laws

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Senate delegations from Colorado and Washington are seeking clarification from the Obama Administration on the regulations which will impact the legal marijuana trade in those two states.

Democratic Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington on Monday wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for "a clear, consistent and uniform interpretation and application" of federal marijuana laws in relation to their home states, reports Jonathan Topaz at Politico. The letter warns about the current uncertainty surrounding federal cannabis laws.

"We believe the federal government should support Colorado and Washington state's effort to establish a successful regulatory framework in a way that achieves greater certainty for local officials, citizens, and business owners" in the marijuana industry, the senators wrote.

The uncertainty regarding the implementation of federal cannabis laws "may undermine our states' ability to regulate the industry adequately," the senators said.

All four Democrats said they look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to ensure lawful and successful implementation of marijuana legalization in their states.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Holder Urges Reduced Sentences For Nonviolent Drug Offenses

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Follows on Footsteps of White House’s Recent Call For Clemency Candidates

The U.S. Department of Justice has thrown its support behind an initiative from the federal Sentencing Commission that would reduce sentences for potentially thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who are currently in federal prison.

Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved a proposal that will reduce sentences for future drug offenders. Attorney General Eric Holder has now announced his backing for a separate proposal by the Commission that would apply retroactivity to these recently reduced sentences.

The proposal could affect between 20,000 and 50,000 nonviolent offenders currently in jail, and save taxpayers an estimated $2.4 billion.

“As a former, first-time, nonviolent drug offender I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder for supporting the retroactive proposal being considered by the U.S. Sentencing Commission," said Anthony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), who served 12 years under New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. Papa was given clemency by Gov. Pataki in 1997.

"Many prisoners that would become eligible have paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance to be reunited with their families and become productive tax-paying citizens," Papa said. "This move would help correct sentencing laws that have broken our criminal justice system and led to the mass incarceration of many low-level nonviolent drug offenders.”

U.S.: Thousands of Prisoners Apply For Obama's Drug Clemency Program

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More than 18,000 U.S. prisoners completed electronic surveys last month to apply for reduced sentences under President Barack Obama's new program designed to clear federal prisons of nonviolent offenders.

The federal Department of Justice in April announced a major new initiative that solicits petitions from inmates who have served more than 10 years for a nonviolent crime; most of these crimes are drug-related, reports Lis Goodwin at Yahoo News.

Federal prisoners are always able to petition the President to have their sentences commuted, but the new program is intended to give a break to those who were sentenced under the draconian mandatory minimums of now-defunct drug laws that increased the federal prison population by 800 percent since they were passed in the Reagan Administration.

Before the new program, about 18,000 federal prisoners had applied for commuted sentences over the previous 12 years combined. The clemency program is part of Obama's transformation from granting the fewest pardons of any modern President, in his first term, to potentially commuting the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in his second.

Such a potentially large grant of clemency hasn't been seen since President Gerald Ford offered amnesty to Vietnam-era draft dodgers back in 1974.

U.S.: House Stops DEA From Undermining State Medical Marijuana and Hemp Laws

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First Time Ever Congress Approves Major Marijuana Law Reform

Bipartisan Rebuke of U.S. Drug War, DEA Overreach and Mismanagement by DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart

In a series of historic votes, the U.S. House voted to prohibit the DEA from undermining state marijuana laws. The House approved a bipartisan measure prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from undermining state medical marijuana laws; the amendment passed with 219 yes votes. An amendment prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp production laws passed with 237 yes votes. An amendment prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp research programs passed with 246 yes votes.

“Each of these votes represents a major victory for those seeking more sensible marijuana policies,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Taken together, they represent an unprecedented change in course in the war on drugs. For years state after state has reformed their drug laws; now there’s a bipartisan consensus in Congress in favor of letting states set their own marijuana policies.”

The medical marijuana amendment was offered by six Republicans and six Democrats: Reps. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Young (R-AK), Blumenauer (D-OR), McClintock (R-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Broun (R-GA), Polis (D-CO), Stockman (R-TX), Lee (D-CA), Amash (R-MI) and Titus (D-NV).

U.S.: Major Drug War Hearings In Congress This Week

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House Holds Hearing on Defense Department and State Department Drug War Activities, Senate Holds DEA Oversight Hearing

Hearings Come Amid Huge Domestic Drug Policy Reforms on Sentencing and Marijuana

This week, both chambers of Congress will hold major hearings on the Drug War.

On Tuesday, April 29, at 10 a.m., there will be joint subcommittee hearing entitled “Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships,” held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. These Committees will hear from General John F. Kelly, USMC Commander of Southern Command, at the Department of Defense, and Luis E. Arreaga Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, at the Department of State.

Then on Wednesday, April 30, at 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration”. The sole witness is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

The hearings come against a backdrop of huge domestic change with respect to the Drug War. In the past year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines.

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