The nation's highest-ranking law enforcement officer said the war on drugs isn't working. And the US can no longer try to incarcerate its way to making the country safer.
Holder gave his speech at the American Bar Association's annual meeting at the Moscone Center. He unveiled sweeping new criminal justice reforms, saying long prison terms for drug offenses are not making the US safer.
"With certain low-level non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to large scale organizations gangs or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences," he said.
The president of the American Bar Association says federal judges she's heard from are universally in favor of Holder's plan.
"This is something they want discretion. Minimum sentencing is one of the most difficult things that they are required to do," ABA President Laurel Bellows said.
And San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said he's thinking of starting a state-wide initiative to reduce simple drug possession to a misdemeanor.
"We automatically reduce the sentencing to one year. I think is the right thing to do," he said.
Holder did not talk about the federal raids on Bay Area pot dispensaries or the fact that federal law contradicts the legalization of medical marijuana.
Defense attorney and legalization advocate Tony Serra said is delighted by Holder's position but he suspects the motives.
"It isn't a concept of justice. It's not a concept of you know giving, I don't know a break, you know to the low-level non-violent criminal. They can't afford the number of prisoners that they have incarcerated," Serra said.
Holder did say that while the nation's population has increased by a third since the 1980s, the federal prison population has increased by 800 percent. And that black males are serving significantly longer sentences than white males convicted of similar crimes.
"This isn't just unacceptable. It's shameful it is unworthy of our great country," Holder said.