Earlier The Same Day, Trump Promises To Be ‘Ruthless’ In The ‘War On Drugs’
The United States Senate on Wednesday ignored historic opposition to confirm the nomination of Alabama Republican Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as the nation’s Attorney General. The 52-47 confirmation means that Sessions, a longtime foe of liberalizing the marijuana laws, is now the top law enforcement officer in the U.S.
Most Republicans voted for Sessions; most Democrats voted against him. The vote comes after two months of organized opposition as hundreds of organizations expressed concerns about Sessions’s record and racially-charged statements he has made in the past.Senator Sessions is a militant opponent of any efforts to reform marijuana policy who once notoriously remarked that the Ku Klux Klan “was okay until I found out they smoked pot.” He is a staunch proponent of the long-discredited “gateway theory,” and has called on federal officials to return to the “Just Say No” rhetoric of the 1980s.
Sessions has over a very long career consistently taken hardline positions in favor of mass incarceration instead of emphasizing treatment and recovery. As Attorney General of Alabama Sessions supported legislation that would have given mandatory death sentences to repeat drug sellers, including people who sold marijuana. He has criticized former Attorney General Eric Holder’s attempts to reduce the prison population, like when Holder encouraged U.S. Attorneys to use mandatory minimums only for high-level drug traffickers.
The confirmation of Sessions as Attorney General is especially troubling given comments President Trump has made, according to the DPA. Earlier on Wednesday, President Trump told law enforcement officials that he is going to be “ruthless” in the War On Drugs. Trump has said that states have the right to legalize medical marijuana, but he’s also claimed that Colorado’s had “big problems” with recreational legalization. It’s actually hard to discern where he stands on cannabis, as on so many other issues, since Trump, at best, seems a little confused, himself.
In December Trump reportedly told Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte that he is waging the War On Drugs “the right way.” Duterte’s government has engaged in extra-judicial killings in name of the drug war, more than 2,000 of their citizens have been killed.During his confirmation hearing, Senator Sessions was somewhat coy in responding to questions from senators on whether he will respect federalism when it comes to states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, saying things like, “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law.” He also would not commit to maintaining the “Cole memo”, DOJ guidance that essentially allows states to set their own marijuana policies as long as they adhere to certain federal standards.
News reports have said that the Trump Administration is working on an executive order to “fight crime”, especially in urban areas. It is not clear what the Trump plan will be, but during his presidential campaign he pledged to enact a national “stop-and-frisk” program. In January he threatened to “send in the Feds” to Chicago. He often talks about how the wall he wants to build on the Mexico border will stop the flow of drugs, but decades of evidence shows supply-side control fails.
Sessions was one of only 16 US Senators to receive a failing grade from NORML in that organization’s 2016 Congressional Report Card because of statements including: “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger,” and “Marijuana cannot be played with, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”“Jeff Sessions’ views are out of step with mainstream America and they are in conflict with the laws regarding marijuana in over half of the states in this country,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Our elected officials, now more than ever, know that marijuana policy is at the forefront of the minds of American voters and that we are willing and able to mobilize for it.
“We will never stop fighting for further marijuana reforms at the state level and much needed federal policy changes,” Strekal said. “With Americans throughout the country organizing and taking action, the fight for cannabis freedom will continue with renewed energy.”“Jeff Sessions and President Trump are stuck in the 1980s when it comes to drug policy, while most of the country knows by now that we need alternatives to the failed drug war,” said Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “If the Administration tries to roll back marijuana reform or to undermine criminal justice reform they will find themselves even less popular than they are now.”
“Despite all the damning evidence brought against him, the Senate today rubber-stamped colleague Jeff Sessions to serve as Attorney General in the Trump Administration,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ, the organization that spearheaded Initiative 71, which legalized cannabis in D.C. “Sessions is a failed war on drugs zealot who has gone so far as to suggest that marijuana offenders deserve the death penalty.“To say he is out of touch with the legalization wave rolling through the United States would be an understatement,” Eidinger said. “Sessions is a threat to states rights, the will of the voters and the legalization movement as a whole.
“We are hopeful that the commander-in-chief, along with leaders from law enforcement, the civil rights community and cannabis activists, will take the opportunity to help enlighten Sessions on responsible drug policy reforms,” Eidinger said.“Senator Sessions statements earlier this year are quite clear: it is up to Congress to pass legislation that absolves him of the responsibility of turning a blind eye towards cannabis,” DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller said. “The silver lining is that if President Trump keeps his campaign promises, Sessions will judiciously use taxpayer dollars on the Federal enforcement of cannabis similar to the previous administration.
“I urge Congress to take up legislation that will allow the new Attorney General to focus his time on more important issues facing the American people,” Schiller said. “But if President Trump wants to take cash out of the hands of international drug cartels and create millions of tax-paying jobs, then America’s cannabis community is a willing partner. If President Trump wants to overhaul healthcare and help veterans, America’s medical cannabis community is also a willing partner. Partnerships make America great, but until cannabis is fully legalized, the full potential of America is not being achieved.
“Looking at the 2016 Election and the eight states that passed new responsible marijuana measures in November, an interesting political trend reveals itself: cannabis polls high across party lines — independents, Libertarians, Green Party, Republicans and Democrats,” Schiller said. “The evidence of this can be seen in the 28 states and the District of Columbia that have already enacted sensible drug policy reforms.
“Americans are now looking to the President and Congress to change the laws nationally and replace them with more common sense approaches towards cannabis,” Schiller said. “You don’t have to be a farmer or a political scientist to realize that Americans want President Trump and Congress to act now.”“We remain cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will refrain from interfering in state marijuana laws,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo[es]’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings. He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.
“President Trump has consistently said that states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and his spokesperson made it clear that the attorney general will be implementing the Trump agenda,” Capecchi said. “We are hopeful that Mr. Sessions will follow the president’s lead and respect states’ rights on marijuana policy.
“A strong and growing majority of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and an even stronger majority think the federal government should respect state marijuana laws,” Capecchi said. “Eight states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana for adult use, and 28 states now have laws that regulate marijuana for medical use. It would be shocking if the Trump administration attempted to steamroll the citizens and governments in these states to enforce an increasingly unpopular federal policy.”
Sessions and President Trump may personally want to escalate the failed War On Drugs but they face a major obstacle – bipartisan support for drug policy reform, according to the DPA. More than three-quarters of Americans recognize that the war on drugs has failed. Most support treatment instead of incarceration. A majority support legalizing marijuana like alcohol.