The nomination of Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a long-time opponent of marijuana law reform, comes just days after voters in eight states decided in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes.
In a speech on the Senate floor earlier this year, Sessions criticized President Barack Obama for not being tough enough on marijuana, saying the U.S. could be at the beginning of “another surge in drug use like we saw in the ’60s and ’70s,” reports Rob Hotokainen at The Sacraemento Bee.
“You have to have leadership from Washington,” Sessions has said. “You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana … you are sending a message to young people that there is no danger in this process. It is false that marijuana use doesn’t lead people to more drug use. It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”
The selection raises immediate concerns that the incoming Trump administration may renege on campaign promises to respect the will of the voters in states that have elected to pursue alternative regulatory schemes for cannabis, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“Trump’s nomination of Senator Sessions for the position of Attorney General should send a chill down the spine of the majority of Americans who support marijuana law reform, and who respect the will of voters to enact regulatory alternatives to cannabis prohibition,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “Senator Sessions is a militant marijuana prohibitionist who believes that ‘good people don¹t smoke marijuana.’“This archaic mentality is not what we need from our nation¹s Attorney General and we must put pressure on President-Elect Trump to ensure that Sessions upholds Trump’s campaign promise to not interfere with state marijuana laws,” Altieri said.
“Senator Sessions is clearly off the reservation when it comes to issues of marijuana policy and he stands diametrically opposed to the majority of Americans who favor the legalization and regulation of marijuana,” Altieri said. “This could foreshadow some very bad things for the eight states that have legalized marijuana for adult use and in the 29 states with with medical marijuana programs.
“With the authority the position of Attorney General provides, Sessions could immediately get to work attempting to block the implementation of the recent ballot initiatives, dismantling a legal industry in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska, and begin conducting massive raids on existing medical and recreational retail stores,” Altieri said.“Trump ascended to the Presidency by tapping into the divide between the views of ordinary voters and the policies espoused by Washington,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “One of the issues where this greatest divide exists is on the subject of marijuana policy, as evidence by the fact now more than half the country lives in jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana in some manner.
“Unfortunately, the appointment of Sen. Sessions — a longtime anti-marijuana zealot — will simply accentuate this divide and cost Washington, DC further respect and credibility with the ordinary American voter,” Armentano said.
Senator Sessions received a failing grade from NORML’s 2016 Congressional Report Card, released this past fall.
Sessions spoke of the need to foster “knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about.”
He has also said in a separate hearing that marijuana cannot be safer than alcohol because, “Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it is not harmless.” He is likely to use his power as Attorney General to close down state-legal marijuana and medical marijuana programs.
Sessions is also a proponent of harsh sentences for drug offenses. Sessions was the chief opponent of recent bipartisan efforts to reduce sentences for drug offenses, demagoguing that, “this proposal would provide for leniency for illegal alien drug traffickers,” and voting against the bill in the Judiciary Committee.
“Donald Trump’s decision heralds a return to the worst days of the drug war,” said Bill Piper, senior director of DPA’s Office of National Affairs. “Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp’ but he’s gone to the very bottom of the drug war barrel for this pick.”Sessions also criticized the Obama Administration’s attempts to reduce the prison population by encouraging U.S. Attorneys to use mandatory minimums only for high-level drug traffickers, according to Piper. It is likely that Sessions as Attorney General would push for harsher sentences and increase the prison population.
“We have never had a president like this — so far removed from establishment norms, openly promoting white supremacy, believing in and promoting wacko conspiracy theories,” Piper wrote in The Influence. “Complicating matters, he doesn’t seem to have fixed positions, rarely gives specifics and contradicts himself often. No one knows for sure what exactly to expect, but we should assume the worst.”
There was a distinct note of betrayal in the response from Steph Sherer, the executive director Americans for Safe Access (ASA), when she heard news of the nomination. “Throughout the 2016 campaign, President-elect Trump repeatedly said he supports medical cannabis and that he believes states should be able to set their own policies in this area,” Sherer said. “However, the nomination of Jeff Sessions as the next Attorney General of the United States is a tremendous cause for concern to medical cannabis patients and their families.“President-elect Trump needs to reassure the more than 300 million Americans living under some sort of medical cannabis law that his Attorney General will honor his campaign pledge to respect state medical cannabis programs,” Sherer said. “As a senator, Sessions has criticized the morality of cannabis users and has stated that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol. Plain and simple, medical cannabis is a critical therapy used by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more.”
“While the choice certainly isn’t good news for marijuana reform, I’m still hopeful the new administration will realize that any crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don’t need and will use lots of political capital they’d be better off spending on issues the new president cares a lot more about,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
“A clear majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana and supermajorities across party lines believe that states should be able to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference,” Angell said. “The truth is, marijuana reform is much more popular with voters than most politicians are, and officials in the new administration would do well to take a careful look at the polling data on this issue before deciding what to do.