The Justice Department again came under fire for its enforcement of marijuana laws Wednesday, as a Democratic House member pressed Laurie A. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, on the level of DOJ grant funds that are used to enforce those statutes.
“Marijuana is not the problem,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), said at a House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security oversight hearing. “It’s turning a whole generation of young people against the system and that’s something we can’t afford.”
Robinson said her office would look into how many Byrne law enforcement grants are used to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for enforcement of cannabis possession laws.
Cohen pressed Robinson to justify the federal government’s role in encouraging the enforcement of laws that the congressman said disproportionately affects people of color and tarnishes the records of young people for their entire lives.
Robinson said she would be “happy” to bring up the issue with Justice Department leadership, and pointed out that Byrne grants are distributed based on formulas.
When Cohen asked how many of the grants are used for marijuana arrests, Robinson replied: “we’ll get back to you.”
The Byrne grant program, created by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was created to award grants to states and local governments that “ improve the functioning of the criminal justice system—with emphasis on violent crime and serious offenders—and enforce state and local laws that establish offenses similar to those in the federal Controlled Substances Act,” according to the OJP website.
Cohen said that the federal government should be focusing Byrne grants on drugs such as heroin.
Cohen was one of nine House Democrats who called on Attorney General Eric Holder last week to end the federal government’s crackdown on California’s medical marijuana system.
At the hearing, Robinson was also questioned by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) about the OJP’s decision to scale back the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative, a grant program designed to finance local law enforcement in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Chaffetz said that the cuts hindered local government efforts to stop illegal immigration and crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Robinson, however, said that the OJP has to contend with a shrinking budget and that its purported effectiveness is not “evidence based.”
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