Conservative Christian Pat Robertson Slams Sessions Drug War Memo

By Tom Angell | May 17, 2017

Donald Trump ended up in the White House largely thanks to the support of evangelical Christian voters. But the Trump administration can’t count on one of the most influential and vocal Christian broadcasters in the country to support its drug policies.

“These people are ‘tough on crime.’ That’s nonsense. Our country is groaning under the weight of incarceration,” televangenlist Pat Robertson said on Monday, referring to a move last week by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that directed federal prosecutors to seek the harshest charges possible in many drug cases.

“These things are insane. And the idea of making it tougher instead of changing it, we ought to take away those mandatory minimums and let judges have some discretion so that they can deal with the cases as they arise,” Robertson said on his 700 Club program on the Christian Broadcasting Network. “We just must do something to stop the incarceration of all these people. And for the attorney general to say let’s enforce every law that Congress has made, dear me. Congress has gone overboard on this tough on crime stuff.”

Robertson also called attention to the racial disparate enforcement of drug laws. “It falls disproportionately on the minorities, on the poor, on the urban blacks, etcetera,” he said. “It’s just not fair, and it’s time something is done to change the laws.”

In a separate move in February, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era move to phase out the use of private prisons. Robertson isn’t happy with that, either.

“It’s just outrageous. And our jails are full. We can’t afford it. It’s unproductive,” he said. “We were farming it out to private businesses and they were getting paid on the number of people they could get locked up and keep locked up. This is insane.”

The epic criminal justice reform rant isn’t the first time the former Southern Baptist minister has spoken up about the issue. In 2012, he endorsed legalizing marijuana, saying it should be treated “the way we treat beverage alcohol,” adding that he “absolutely” supported that year’s Colorado and Washington State ballot measures to end prohibition.

While he walked the comments back two years later, he has since maintained support for simple “decriminalization” of cannabis.

Robertson has ranted about America’s overincarceration problem on the 700 Club on other occasions, too, including in 2012 when he said, “It’s time we stop locking up people for possession of marijuana. We just can’t do it anymore… You don’t lock ’em up for booze unless they kill somebody on the highway.”

The new Sessions Justice Department memo has been widely panned on both sides of the aisle.

See below for a roundup of some of the criticism:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long. Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice.”

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): “The Attorney General’s new sentencing policy is an ideologically motivated attempt to resurrect the failed policies of the War on Drugs. Make no mistake, low-level offenders will spend years and even decades more in prison. This will not make us safer — quite the opposite, it will strip critical public safety resources away from targeting truly violent criminals in order to house nonviolent drug offenders.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): “This policy shift flies in the face of the growing bipartisan consensus that we need to reduce—not increase—the length of prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. It will send already skyrocketing prison costs even higher, undermining other important public safety priorities and separating nonviolent drug offenders from their families for years, which has a destructive effect on communities and erodes faith in our criminal justice system.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): “To be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): “Jeff Sessions is trying to start the War on Drugs 2.0 – and that’s unacceptable. We must fight back.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): “Jeff Sessions wants to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made on sentencing reform—and we must speak out against it.”

Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX): “Trump/Sessions: Let’s double down on failed strategy, add to highest incarceration rate in the world. America: Let’s end the war on drugs.”

Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI): “Let’s pass criminal justice reform to put an end to this unjust, ineffective, and costly policy.”

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN): “Sessions’ memorandum is a return to the failed policies of the War on Drugs. It is bad for our communities, and utterly destructive for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. The only people who benefit from these laws are those who have a financial stake in imprisonment: the private prison industry and vendors to the public system.”

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN): ” Harsher sentences for non-violent drug crimes cost taxpayers more money and waste limited resources that are needed to go after more dangerous, violent offenders who put the public at risk. The beneficiaries of these policies are often private prisons who profit from locking up more inmates, disproportionately affecting people of color.”

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): “Will fight AG Sessions’ effort to revive failed War on Drugs. Mass incarceration has destroyed lives & devastated our minority communities.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA): “As President Trump distracts with outlandish threats, AG Sessions quietly brings back the harshest sentences of the failed War on Drugs.”

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose own Justice Department policy Sessions has overturned, called the move “dumb on crime.”

The editorial board of the conservative National Review said, “Jeff Sessions wants to get tough in the war on drugs. The problem with his line of thinking is that managing the duplex problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking is not a war, however much the rhetoric of war may be mistaken for the fact of war, and the Trump administration’s get-tough posture is unlikely to produce the desired result.”

The Koch brothers-funded Freedom Partners said, “We favor a different approach which requires changing some of the existing federal laws.”

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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