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Justice Department Turns Attention to Cannabis Enforcement

May 30, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to members of law enforcement Friday, April 28, 2017, in Central Islip, N.Y. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
WASHINGTON (AP) — A zealous prosecutor who was crucial in writing the Justice Department’s new policy encouraging harsher punishments for criminals is now turning his attention to hate crimes, marijuana and the ways law enforcement seizes suspects’ cash and property.

Steve Cook’s hardline views on criminal justice were fortified as a cop on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The unabashed drug warrior is now armed with a broad mandate to review departmental policies, and observers already worried about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ agenda are wringing their hands at Cook’s ascension.

After some 30 years of prosecuting mostly violent crimes, Cook sums up his philosophy in simple terms that crystalized one night on patrol when he came upon a family whose station wagon had been hit head-on by a “pilled-up drug user.” Two daughters were dead in the backseat. In Cook’s eyes, everyone had to be punished, including the courier who shuttled the drugs into town and the dealer who sold them to the man behind the wheel.

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“This theory that we have embraced since the beginning of civilization is, when you put criminals in prison, crime goes down,” he told The Associated Press during a recent interview. “It really is that simple.”

It is actually a widely challenged view, seen by many as far from simple. But it is one that governs Cook as he helps oversee a new Justice Department task force developing policies to fight violent crime in cities. Already he is pushing ideas that even some Republicans have dismissed as outdated and fiscally irresponsible.

Cook helped craft Sessions’ directive this month urging the nation’s federal prosecutors to seek the steepest penalties for most crime suspects, a move that will send more people to prison for longer, and which was assailed by critics as a revival of failed drug war policies that ravaged minority communities.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, whose more lenient policies contributed to a decline in the federal prison population for the first time in decades, slammed the reversal of his work as “driven by voices who have not only been discredited but until now have been relegated to the fringes of this debate.”

Cook finds the criticism baffling. All this discussion of criminal justice changes takes the focus off the real victims, he said: drug addicts, their families and those killed and injured as the nation’s opioid epidemic rages.

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“For me, it’s like the world is turned upside-down,” Cook said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We now somehow see these drug traffickers as the victims. That’s just bizarre to me.”

Even some police and prosecutors supported recent bipartisan efforts to reduce some mandatory minimum sentences and give judges greater discretion in sentencing, a reversal of 1980s and ’90s-era “tough-on-crime” laws. But Cook sees today’s relatively low crime rates as a sign that those policies worked.

Long, mandatory minimum sentences can goad informants into cooperating and ensure drug peddlers stay locked up for as long as possible, he said.

As a defense attorney in 1986, Bill Killian recalled being unable to convince Cook — then a rookie prosecutor — to agree to leniency for his client, whom he described as a minor player in a massive meth lab operating in the wooded farmland of eastern Tennessee. The man had no criminal past and was not profiting like the ringleaders.

“He wanted the maximum, whatever the maximum could be,” Killian said. More than 20 years later, Killian became U.S. attorney for that region, and Cook was chief of the criminal division, overseeing mostly violent crime, gang and drug cases.

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When Holder told prosecutors in 2013 that they could leave drug quantities out of charging documents, so as not to charge certain suspects with crimes that would trigger long sentences, Cook was aghast, Killian said. Killian, meanwhile, embraced Holder’s so-called smart-on-crime approach, which encouraged leniency for offenders who weren’t violent or weren’t involved in leading an organization.

Obama administration officials cited a drop in the overall number of drug prosecutions as evidence the policies were working as intended. Holder argued prosecutors were getting pickier about the cases they were bringing and said data showed they could be just as successful inducing cooperation from defendants without leveraging the threat of years-long mandatory minimum punishments.

But to Cook, there is no such thing as a low-level offender.

“Steve Cook thinks that everyone who commits a crime ought to be locked up in jail,” Killian said. “He and I have philosophical differences about that that won’t ever be reconciled.”

Now Cook is detailed to the deputy attorney general’s office in Washington, studying policies to see how they reconcile with Sessions’ top priorities: quashing illegal immigration and violence. Cook has been traveling the country alongside Sessions as he espouses his tough-on-crime agenda, seeking input from law enforcement officials that he will take to the task force as it crafts its recommendations, which are due in July.

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Sessions Task Force Will Review DOJ Cannabis Enforcement

He offers no hints about what lies ahead. But those advocating changes to the justice system are nervous. With Sessions and Cook in powerful positions, such efforts are in peril, said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“You’ve put the arch enemies of criminal justice reform in charge of the U.S. Justice Department, you’ve made the hill a little steep,” he said. Of Cook, he added, “He is out of central casting for old school prosecutors, and he’s nothing if not earnest. I think he is profoundly misguided, but it’s certainly not an act.”

The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, which Cook led before his new assignment, said his ascendancy within the Justice Department bodes well for prosecutors who felt handcuffed by Obama-era policies.

Lawrence Leiser, the group’s new president, called him inspiring.

“His heart and soul is in everything he does,” he said. “And he is a strong believer in the rule of law.”

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Govs Urge Sessions to Keep Cannabis Legal

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  • Open Minds

    How to Win the War on Drugs: Legalize, Regulate, Tax, Educate.

  • malcolmkyle

    Another mindless prohibitionist who want’s to waste trillions of dollars of everybody else’s money on a failed policy.

    • legalizepotusa

      Those greedy bastards get all that money plus they get all the money and property they seized from people. the whole thing is motivated by willfull ignorance, selfishness laziness and greed. When I say laziness I mean they are too lazy and cowardly to go after the real hardcore dangerous criminals. They need the EZ Money of the pot prohibition scam.

  • Barbara Brown

    These ignorant bastards should be tarred, feathered and ridden right out on a rail! How the heck does someone who is this damn stupid get a job with so much power over others?

    • Ken Crisp

      Ok we made a BIG mistake giving frump the White House ! He is as crooked as a corkscrew so is sessions ! Impeach both of them they both SUCK at making america great again !!!!!

    • Robert Mattison

      Look who’s president 😷

    • Billy Wolf

      Ask Donald trump for the job….Oh , but bring your wallet….Barbara Brown U.S. Attorney General has a nice ring to it…Bet you would do A BETTER JOB AS WELL……Cheers…..Feed the White Wolf my sister…..

    • legalizepotusa

      I love you Barbara Brown.

  • Daniel Rosado Rodriguez

    The old goat is still out of the care center. He is just a person with no future, at least with pro cannabis patients. And old goat without any future. Senile and full of crap. This is 21 century. He should be retired on an island full of cannabis!

  • Bill Kratzer

    shame this holy rule of law advocate won’t turn his sights on ANSLINGERS LIES in Congress that got Cannabis unlawfully prohibited

    • Ken Crisp

      There ya go Man ! lets start from the beginning !

  • Legalize420

    This is sickening that we have such ignorant people in office and nothing is done about it. I am never normally sincerely negative, but it’s most of Americas fault for letting things get to this extent. If people stood up, put their fake freedoms on the line and said NO! we wouldn’t be here. People are naturally brainwashed and let things go down by thinking only on their own terms and not pushing to the Max or further. The “wait and see” attitude of almost everyone and “nothing I can do ” and :shrug: is a good part of what’s put us in this shit sandwich we are living in. We got Trump on one end, sessions on the other and the people just sit bye. It’s real disheartening to me when I talk to people, they say I’m right or that it’s how they feel but once I suggest a tactic, everyone turns away. “No, that’s illegal, thats immoral”, etc. If people gathered by the tens of thousands we can get heard and somewhere. WW2 was being lost until Doolittle and his team secretly bombed japan, which lead to eventual change and it ending as an example. We need to FIGHT and NOT STAND DOWN TO THESE IDIOTIC BRAINLESS one sided duchebags. They are in these positions because the people voted for and backed them. Everyone who voted for trump needs to be beaten with a ugly stick so they can look just like their saivior, trump, who tweets e,ceasively and cant spell.
    I have emailed and called state reps and did phone banking for the MA legalization innitiative, and it was amazing how ignorant many people really are! 😨😱😰

    The cannabis culture is full of open minded people, but sadly too many ignorant brainless, uninformed people vote for, or make decisions that end up harming others, but not themselves ofcourse. If we stick together and say NO! WE WILL NOT STAND BY WHILE A SMALL NUMBER OF PEOPLE MAKE HUGE DECISIONS THAT AFFECT THE MAJORITY. Thats patriotism.

    I am not attacking anoyone specifically aside from people who stand by, do nothing, vote and do things without correct info or doing necessary research, and supporting bad people because theres no othet option. there was another option to hillary and trump, but most people just go one way or the other.we need to OPEN OUR MINDS and accept reality. I am also guilty of not doing enough as i have severe anxiety and PTSD,aspergers, and other things and i cant do many things just on my own.

    We need to #IMPEACHSESSIONS and #IMPEACHTRUMP. We cant just keep this sit and wait and see attitude. We need to look out for eachother and help eachother. This rasict deportations and obamacare getting trashed is horrible. I hope there are others as outraged as me as i honestly feel like im alone. We need to stand up and help eachother and not let injustices against americans be acceptable. Stronger mandatory minimums and all these constant policy changes are maddening and we need people in office who are WITH THE TIMES and not just into THEMSELVES. At the very least,we need to gather together to fight against Sessions DOJ changes. Its wrong. We need to fight back in every way and not allow our freedoms to continuously be ripped apart and taken away by asnine decisions made by people that have NOTHING to do with or have no part in the ramifications of their actions. You dont see congressmens families fighting in the army do you? People need to wake up and we all need to figure out how to get through and by and get rid of careless, thoughtless people who just want to bring chaos and ruin unto us and change whats working. People need to wake up. I hope we can get something going to help eachother stay healthy and safe with sessions and trump going after nonviolent, nice, and regular people trying to just live their lives. Stand together not apart. Republican,democrat,libral,grassroots,tea party it doesnt matter. We all want the same essentially. A happy life. We should be HELPING EACHOTHER, and this insane arrest/jail or remove the problem and it all goes away mentality many many have needs to be changed. I love the cannabis culture as unlike the bull that sessions spews, many people care about others, and help one another in a friendly sincere way. There are some bad seeds but that doesn’t mean they need to be exiled. Just made aware and helped. Lets end the hate and change our fate! If we do the right things and start to try to care about others, and stop being into our own lives and greed is another evil that does MUCH MORE DAMAGE than any “drug” could.

    I hope we can get Sessions out of office as a pile of 💩 has more intelligence than he ever could. Common people, LETS GET TOGETHER AND CALL, MAIL, GO OUT AND FIGHT AND LETS BRING FREEDOM AND LOVE AND CARE BACK TO AMERICA! LETS MAKE AMERICA FREE AGAIN!

  • Don Gropp

    Now we have a moralist, Steve Cook, who claims he himself has never broken a law. How come I can’t find anything of his biography. Is he married, and does he have children? Would he tell his children they don’t deserve a second chance? Everyone deserves a second chance!

    • randolini

      That’s a fact Don. I recall a few years ago when Big Time Drug War Nazi Jeb Bush’s daughter was popped for cocaine. He wasn’t such a drug war Nazi then. It was all, please, we ask for privacy to deal with this family matter. Typical republican hypocrisy.

  • Bugz

    Corporate Pharma, Corporate Prisons, Career Politicians and Lobbyist benefit from locking up nonviolent offenders (none of which know any science) – Connect the dots:
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/09bbc36f58f666ccc9c205999df89247e31b9ff19c26775de13ca9dad6deaf26.jpg

  • BenSamizdat

    America puts more people in jail for using Cannabis than the rest of the world combined. Simply put it is a Human Rights Violation and has accomplished nothing to stymie Cannabis use – hence the legalization effort under way by so many States. Apparently Cook is too dense to understand that the War on Drugs has had ZERO success. Oh that’s right – Sessions works for the three largest For-Profit-Prison companies that depend on putting as many citizens in jail as they can get away with!

    • Mb

      They need to start with the pharmaceutical companies. Because that’s where the real problem is.

      • legalizepotusa

        big oil and alcohol are also huge enemies of hemp.

  • Peter Lemonjello

    Leave Marijuana users alone and go after real criminals, Sessions.

  • Billy Wolf

    So now we are letting Traitors and Criminals make our laws…NOT….This man is a Traitor and should be in Prison NOT washington…

  • Robert La

    Um. No? You don’t fix a problem by locking it away in a secure box and hoping it won’t come back to haunt you. You find the core issue and you resolve it or mediate in such a way that the violation no longer becomes necessary. That is how you reduce crime, not locking people in prison.

    To lock someone into a prison is to treat a negative symptom, not to root out the cause of the ailment.

  • Stephen Patterson

    The rich bastards of Washington aren’t getting all the money they want, so they want to take everything from middle class on down. If this happens then who will pay the prison bills, because as we were informed a while ago, rich assholes don’t like to pay their fair share for anything.

  • Ken Borowski

    Pills and Cannabis, apples and oranges. War on drugs, a complete failure, and a waste of money that could have been used for schools, homelessness, hunger, VA care, and the list goes on. Sessions and his cronies, put down the cocktails and step into the 21st century. I agreed when Open Minds stated to win the war on drugs: Legalize, Regulate, Tax, and Educate (YOURSELVES!)https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8aaed238173a82ed1abc613e577cdab59275b34a87197c038db268860d3a3928.jpg

    • HappySmoke Hancho

      Wrong, not a complete failure! the war on drugs has kept thousands of cops, lawyers, judges,
      lobbiyest, politicians and prisons employed! After all, maggots have to eat too!

  • legalizepotusa

    “This theory that we have embraced since the beginning of civilization is, when you put criminals in prison, crime goes down,” he told The Associated Press during a recent interview. “It really is that simple.”

    Really now Cook, what happens when you make unreasonable laws through corruption and blatant acts of fraud?

    What happens when you make laws which clearly violate the will of the people?

    What happens when you give law enforcement free reign to seize whatever cash and property they want without even charging or proving a person committed a crime?

    I really would like an answer to these questions.

    • Chaddy Liquor Tits

      I agree with everything you say, however, I do not agree with one up-voting one’s own comments. >;D

    • scott steven

      though the Supreme Court ruled his past week that law enforcement MUST return ALL cash properties and possesions confiscated from people who were NEVER CONVICTED of a crime it was a case of a Colorado resident where couple never charged had to pay fines etc took property and the cops had to return their money and property sets a presidence from the Highest court in the Land

  • DIGBYDEVIL

    ASSHOLES… THE ONLY NAME I CAN THINK OF FOR THESE TWO…

  • HappySmoke Hancho

    Meet Jeff Sessions, the new Harry Anslinger, a true Neandrathal from the stone age. He’s got his head so far up his ass he can see his tonsils!! We can only hope he gets lung cancer and has to turn to cannabis to cure it, maybe then he’ll get it but I doubt it. It would have to be lung cancer because he obviously lacks a brain. This is exactly who we DON’T NEED!

  • Izzat So

    There’s a time coming when enough states will join together, legalize cannabis on their level, and simply tell Sessions and Cook and the DEA to go fuck themselves. Three cheers for the 10th amendment.

  • 360dunk

    With Sessions and Cook travelling together like an organ grinder and his monkey, there should be no concern for the rest of us…..these two bumbling stooges are urinating in the wind if they think they can stop the cannabis movement.

  • MikeParent

    There are at least two members of this Administration that lied on their security clearance application and one lied during his confirmation hearing.
    Those are felonies that deserve to be prosecuted Jeff

  • MikeParent

    #foolserrand This will cost Trump 15-25% of his beloved base. I know a lot of people who voted for him Because they believed him when he said he’d leave it to the states.

  • Leroy Mosley

    Just another way to put innocent people in jail and seize their property. The problem is we put non Medical people in charge of Drug enforcement .

  • dont_play_me

    What decade is this, Mr. Sessions? No one cares about weed. I don’t smoke and I don’t care. … And is this a lifestyle issue? Of course not. The only effect this will have is to lock up more of our young (and old) people … The for-profit prison lobby is talking … The medical evidence is as clear as, er, Global Warming

  • familyguy

    Trump has Sessions do the dirty for work for him. That way, he can tell the people he did not break the promise he made to the voters in NV. If you didn’t see that coming you must be blind.

  • realpatriot2

    Sessions has been waiting for years for this. Too bad nobody reminded him the world kept moving while he was spitting, snoring , and sleeping. Why not go after the easiest and least dangerous? He should recuse himself from anything that makes the world better, and medical marijuana does. I can’t walk and have uncontrollable seizures without it. My caregivers remind me to take my marijuana medicine when they see me falling or seizing. My doctor reminds me to take more if I haven’t done enough and have fallen between visits. Here I am Jeff, the worst criminal you want to imprison. What good will it do you or the rest of America to throw me in prison?

  • Robert Gerus

    If the new laws are reversed. It’s not a secret that Sessions is heavily invested in the private prison system and in Big Pharma stocks in the U.S. and with the new laws in effect, he stands to lose considerably if the Cannabis industry and U.S. voters are allowed to continue its trend towards legalization at the federal level. According to many figures, 40% of the U.S. prison population in the U.S., is in prison for Cannabis related convictions, based on those same old and outdated draconian laws. It is the direct reason prisons nation wide are over populated… From another reader Sessions stands to lose millions if he doesn’t get his way.