While it is still early, we now have some indication of how Jeff Sessions will handle marijuana as Attorney General.
My suggestion is that we are headed for DOJ status quo with marijuana enforcement… but you damn well better be worried about things like civil rights enforcement, Supreme Court cases, and keeping the Trump Admin as lawful as possible.
Here’s why I’m relatively confident on the marijuana front:
- A majority of Congress will continue to vote to defund DEA marijuana enforcement;
- Public pressure from the 89% of the country supporting medical marijuana is noticed by all politicians of all parties; and
- Jeff Sessions is no dummy (though may have other personal flaws).
The evidence holds two competing narratives about Sessions: his years of public service, and his confirmation hearings.
His public statements on marijuana are certainly worrisome.
[Sessions] added that lawmakers and leaders in government needed to foster “knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about . . . and to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
And who could forget:
Sessions thought the KKK “were OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
Sure, that looks bad. In context I’m sure he only meant the KKK sucks because they smoke nasty skunk weed, not because they smoke any weed. Right?
But seriously, here’s where pragmatism outweighs 70-years of racism and Reefer Madness.
Here is what he stated in follow-up questions from his confirmation hearings:
Q: At your confirmation hearing, in response to a question of mine on whether you would use our limited federal resources to prosecute sick people who followed their state laws with regards to medical marijuana, you said “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy, but absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.” Does this mean you would consider arresting and prosecuting patients who follow their 37 state medical marijuana laws?
A: As I testified before the Committee, I will not commit to never enforcing Federal law. Whether an arrest and investigation of an individual who may be violating the law is appropriate is a determination made in individual cases based on the sometimes unique circumstances surrounding those cases, as well as the resources available at the time.” [Emphasis added]
Bear with me, it gets less foggy.
Q. Would this congressional prohibition prevent the DEA from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that are compliant with state law, or from shutting down banks or other businesses that work with dispensaries?
A: The Ninth Circuit case you referenced is relatively recent, and I am not familiar with how other courts may have interpreted the relevant appropriations language or the Ninth Circuit’s opinion. As an emerging issue, that is one that will need to be closely evaluated in light of all relevant law and facts. I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as Attorney General, I will conduct such a review. Of course, medical marijuana use is a small part of the growing commercial marijuana industry.
What’s that you say? That doesn’t sound good, you’re thinking? Fine, it’s not roses and chocolate. It’s not “I will respect the will of Congress with regards to marijuana enforcement.” It’s not “I recognize 80% of the country has legalized recreational, medical, or CBD-only marijuana laws, and I’ll respect that.” But here’s the thing – neither did our former AG Loretta Lynch, or our former former AG Eric Holder. They pledged to enforce the laws, and review each situation on a case-by-case basis. Same as Sessions.
So worry about proliferation of hate crimes and the need for an AG that will stop the President from breaking the Constitution. I think DOJ marijuana enforcement is going to stay the course as we’ve seen since the Ogden and Cole memos. Of course, I also was sure Hillary Clinton was about to become President, so maybe we keep a dose of healthy skepticism??