Holder announced the change in policy in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco,
The attorney general said he has "today mandated a modification of the Justice Department's charging policies so that 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."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a probable 2016 presidential candidate said in a statement he was "encouraged" by Holder's order.
"I am encouraged that the president and attorney general agree with me that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders promote injustice and do not serve public safety," he said. "I look forward to working with them to advance my bipartisan legislation, the Justice Safety Valve Act, to permanently restore justice and preserve judicial discretion in federal cases. I introduced this legislation in March with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy as a legislative fix to the very problem Attorney General Holder discussed today' -- overcrowding in prisons.
"The administration's involvement in this bipartisan issue is a welcome development. Now the hard work begins to change the law to permanently address this injustice."
Leahy, D-Vt., issued his own statement.
"As a former prosecutor, I understand that criminals must be held accountable, and that long sentences are sometimes necessary to keep violent criminals off the street," he said. "I have come to believe, however, that our reliance on mandatory minimums has been a great mistake, and I am encouraged that Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice have joined the growing chorus from across the political spectrum that question this one-size-fits-all approach. It does not make us safer."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., assistant majority leader, also praised the new policy in a statement.
"Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses have played a huge role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population," Durbin said. "Once seen as a strong deterrent, these mandatory sentences have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. I look forward to working with Attorney General Holder and the bipartisan group of senators that support reforming outdated laws that have proven not to work and cost taxpayers billions."