Jacob Sullum

Republican complaints about Obama's enforcement of the drug laws are the weakest part of their case against him. The two policies they criticize do not flout the law, and they are avowedly aimed at ensuring proper use of scarce federal resources.

Federal prosecutors have a great deal of discretion (for good and ill) in deciding whether and how to charge people who have broken the law. Attorney General Eric Holder took advantage of that discretion by instructing prosecutors that charges against certain low-level, nonviolent offenders should omit references to drug weight that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

Similarly, the Justice Department's guidance regarding marijuana businesses that comply with state law lists eight criteria for deciding which offenders to target and warns that other unmentioned factors may justify prosecution when it "serves an important federal interest." Contrary to what Republicans claim, this policy does not exempt people in certain states from the prohibitions of the Controlled Substances Act.

The most striking aspect of the executive excesses cited by Republicans may be what they leave out. Why no mention, for example, of the way Obama misused money meant for financial institutions to bail out the car industry? Perhaps because this blatantly illegal diversion of congressionally allocated funds was initiated by George W. Bush.

Partisanship likewise helps explain why the committee report explicitly eschews discussion of presidential abuses justified in the name of national security. Those include some of Obama's most troubling power grabs, such as routinely collecting innocent people's phone records, going to war without congressional authorization, detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial and killing people he unilaterally identifies as enemies of America. But as Bush showed, national security is a bipartisan excuse for ignoring the law.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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