Sessions issues strict new policy on drug prosecutions

Drug paraphernalia found during a search in West Virginia.
(Image credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo Friday directing federal prosecutors to charge defendants with "the most serious, readily provable offense" that carries "the most substantial guidelines sentence," The Washington Post reports.

The "Sessions Memo" is a dramatic reversal from the policies of President Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., who in 2013 directed prosecutors to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences with defendants who met certain criteria and were facing drug-related charges:

The new policy revokes Holder's previous guidance to prosecutors to not specify the quantity of drugs in the charges they brought to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences — provided the defendant did not have a significant criminal history, was not violent, or was not a leader of an organization or tied to a gang.That was particularly significant, because large quantities of drugs typically forced judges to impose stiff sentences — 10 years for a kilogram of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. Prosecutors, too, could use the threat of a mandatory minimum penalty to facilitate plea bargains, and some were irked that Holder's memo stripped them of that tool. [The Washington Post]

"The new policy is expected to lead to more federal prosecutions and an increase in the federal prison population," The Washington Post writes, noting that the memo marks the Trump administration bringing back "the toughest practices of the drug war."

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.