“I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana through any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
~ Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, Feb. 27, 2017
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday restated his fierce opposition to marijuana use, and offered what the press called an “ominous warning” about states that legalize cannabis. Sessions suggested that such policies would open states to “violence,” as well as possible actions from the federal government.
His comments, along with those last week from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, appear to set the stage for a Trump Administration crackdown on recreational marijuana.
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions said to reporters at the Department of Justice, report Ryan J. Reilly and Matt Ferner at The Huffington Post. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”Sessions’ claims of violence around the legal marijuana trade are completely unsupported by facts. But then again, we have learned, repeatedly, that the Trump Administration is rarely driven by facts.
Studies have found no correlation between cannabis legalization and violent crime rates, reports The Associated Press. In fact, one of the talking points of legalization efforts nationwide has been removing control of the cannabis trade from black market channels to remove violence from the business.
“Attorney General Sessions’ latest comments are completely fictitious,” responded Erik K. Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “They describe a reality that only exists in the world of alternative facts.
“Marijuana legalization has not led to increased violence, but rather has led to lowered youth use rates, increased tax revenue, and fewer arrests of otherwise law abiding American citizens,” Altieri said. “The truth is that legalization is working and the views expressed by Attorney General Sessions are reckless, irresponsible, and outright false.”“By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exist when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market.”
The Attorney General said he had a Monday meeting with the attorney general of Nebraska, who is “very concerned” about marijuana coming into his state from Colorado, which legalized in 2012. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved,” Sessions said.
In 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a federal lawsuit against Colorado for legalizing weed. They tried to invalidate the new law allowing the sale of recreational marijuana, claiming that it caused increased trafficking of cannabis into their states. The Supreme Court dismissed the suit last year.
“You can’t sue somebody for drug debt,” Sessions said, showing his ignorance of legalization. “The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that.”“States, they can pass the laws they choose,” he admitted. “I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana through any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
“Most states have some limits on it and, already, people are violating those limits,” Sessions claimed, reports Josh Gerstein at Politico. The Attorney General obviously seems to be trying to set the state for a federal crackdown.
“We’re going to look at it, and try to adopt responsible policies,” Sessions said on Monday. Which sounds, of course, as if he plants on the feds “overruling” American voters who have chosen to set their own state policies regarding marijuana.
Spicer freaked out the cannabis community last Friday when he said states that have legalized recreational marijuana will see “greater enforcement” of federal laws prohibiting the plant. Spicer said that Trump sees the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana as two separate issues, and while Trump understands its medicinal importance, recreational use of pot is “something the Department of Justice will be looking into.”The press secretary’s statements marked a pivot away from Trump’s promises during his campaign, when he repeatedly claimed he would “respect state’s rights” on the issue.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law due to the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Legal recreational cannabis has been approved in eight states and D.C., although retail sales are banned in the District of Columbia, unlike the state programs. Twenty-eight states have legalized medical marijuana.
Former President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice allowed states to set their own marijuana policies, with the Cole Memo offering federal guidance urging prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana businesses. The memo said federal enforcement and prosecution efforts would instead focus on stopping drug-related violence, distribution to minors, halting gang involvement in drug sales, and blocking marijuana transportation to states where it remains illegal, reports Mark Hensch at The Hill.
But this can now be reversed by the Trump Administration. Sessions said they were “looking” at the memos which de-prioritize marijuana enforcement in legal states.Trump’s selection of Sessions as Attorney General alarmed drug policy reformers from the beginning. They view the former Alabama GOP senator as a “Drug War dinosaur.” Sessions brought this perception upon himself by saying stupid things like “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” which he uttered in Congress just last year.
Sessions went on to criticize President Obama for not speaking out more forcefully against marijuana. He claimed “we need grow-ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” He also, at another occasion last year, called cannabis legalization “a mistake.”
During his confirmation hearings last month, Atty. Gen. Sessions only offered wishy-washy answers when asked how he might approach federal enforcement of the marijuana laws. He left the door open for more federal interference with state laws.
A federal rider which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit last year ruled blocks the feds from prosecuting state-legal marijuana businesses must be re-approved annually. If it’s allowed to expire, Sessions could then order the Drug Enforcement Administration to start a crackdown, enforcing federal law nationwide. He could also sue the governments of every state which has legalized.
A survey last week from Quinnipiac University found that an overwhelming majority, 71 percent, of American voters want the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, independents, and every age group polled agreed that the federal government should not enforce cannabis prohibition in states which have legalized.