Liberals and conservatives have learned from the drug war's failures. More jail time may result in less crime, but the costs can be too high. Harsh punishments often catch street-corner dealers, not drug kingpins. The drug war's foremost legacy is a skyrocketing prison population; the number of drug offenders in federal prisons has increased 21 times since 1980.
Spurred by this alarming reality, the U.S. Sentencing Commission unanimously voted last week to give nearly 50,000 inmates the chance to reduce their drug sentences. This came after an April decision to lower sentencing guidelines, the advisory rules given to judges, by an average of one to two years for drug-related crimes.
The commission's decision begins to swing the pendulum back from the days of excessive punishment. So does Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s push for prosecutors to avoid activating mandatory minimum sentences when charging low-level drug crimes and for an expansion of clemency.