On Feb. 9, President Donald Trump rolled out three executive orders that he said are designed to restore safety in the United States.
The first order gives Attorney General Jeff Sessions authority to create a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. This unit will be charged with developing strategies to improve public safety.
The task force can propose legislation for new strategies to reduce crime, including illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime. The group will submit at least one report to Trump within a year and at least once per year thereafter while the unit remains in existence.
“We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety,” Trump said during a Feb. 16 press conference. “We are saving American lives every single day.”
The second order is intended to crack down on transnational criminal organizations and prevent international trafficking. Trump states that drug trafficking by cartels has increased fatal drug abuse and violent drug-related crimes.
This legislation also maximizes the ability of federal agencies to share information to identify, interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations. Its policy asks numerous agencies to develop strategies to reduce crimes such as human trafficking, drug smuggling and other illicit activities.
“We’re becoming a drug-infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars,” Trump said in the Feb. 16 press conference. “We’re not going to let it happen any longer.”
The third order is designed to prevent violence against law enforcement officers. Trump directs the Department of Justice to use federal law to prosecute those who commit crimes against police officers.
The order also allows federal agencies to recommend legislation to protect law enforcement officers. After a review of existing laws, federal agencies could make recommendations to further protect officers, which could include establishing new mandatory minimum prison sentences for existing crimes of violence against police.
Drug Reformers Criticize Orders
Organizations that champion drug reform have voiced displeasure with the executive orders. Bill Piper, senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, issued a statement on Feb. 9 criticizing Trump’s executive orders.
“We have had a war on drugs. It has failed,” said Piper. “Tough talk may look good before the cameras, but history has taught us that cracking down on drugs and building walls will not stop the supply or use of drugs.”
Piper also called Trump’s rhetoric dangerous, disturbing and dishonest.
Amnesty International, a human rights organization, criticized Trump’s order calling for federal penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers.
“This order does nothing to address real and serious problems in the U.S. criminal justice system,” the organization stated in a press release.
Sessions’ Views on Drugs
Many people worry that Sessions could impede criminal justice reform.
Sessions was a federal prosecutor in southern Alabama in the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, he aggressively pursued drug offenders and often championed harsher sentences for low-level drug offenses.
A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that drug convictions comprised 40 percent of Sessions’ convictions while he served as a federal prosecutor in Alabama.
However, he helped draft and pass the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing gap between crimes for crack and powder cocaine. At the time, the law punished crack cocaine offenders much more severely than it did powder cocaine offenders.
But he still opposes efforts to reduce long federal prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, despite bipartisan efforts for reform. In 2016, he blocked the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would have reduced mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenses, such as drug crimes.
Sessions also opposes the legalization of marijuana. At a Senate hearing in April, he spoke about his opposition to cannabis legalization.
“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” said Sessions.