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Will Loretta Lynch Wind Down the Drug War?

President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, was confirmed by the Senate after a long delay due to Capitol Hill party politicking on April 23. She becomes the first Black woman to head the US Justice Department, and she brings some credentials to the job that will hearten those concerned with social justice. As U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, she prosecuted the NYPD officers who sodomized Abner Louima in a New York police station bathroom with a broken broom handle in 1997.
But at her confirmation hearing she appeared to tilt right, telling senators on Jan. 29: “[N]ot only do I not support the legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization. Nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.” It’s noted that she has won support from such intolerant hard-liners as New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who called her “a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor.”

On the other hand, points out that Lynch also said that that the current Justice Department policy of allowing states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference is “effective, consistent and rational.” Lynch made the statement in response to written questions from Senate Judiciary Committee chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) in February.  She wrote: “The Department’s August 2013 memorandum simply provides guidance, applicable to federal prosecutors in every state, regarding the use of the Department’s limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant public health and public safety threats in an effective, consistent and rational way.”

This is a reference to Justice Department’s so-called “Cole Memo“—which, as Lynch emphasized, is a non-binding “guidance” memorandum. So Lynch is obviously talking out of both sides of her mouth, in true politician style. Her actual policy in office will likely depend on whether the forces of liberation or backlash can most effectively make their pressure felt in the corridors of power.

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