Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) also asked the nominee a worrisome question about federal cannabis enforcement. While Sessions’ response did not explicitly state he would shut down state marijuana programs, his response to Senator Lee was, “the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and the distribution of it an illegal act.” He added, “It’s not so much the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our jobs and enforce laws as effectively as we are able.”
Sessions concluded that Congress must change the law if they do not want the Attorney General to prosecute marijuana crimes.
“Senator Jeff Sessions’ response to questions about marijuana and federalism during his Attorney General confirmation hearing today was wishy-washy at best,” said Bill Piper, senior director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “It is clear that he was too afraid to say the ‘reefer madness’ things he said just a year ago, and that’s progress.
“But he made it clear throughout the hearing that he will enforce federal law,” Piper said. “He could have said he will respect state marijuana law, which is what President-elect Trump said on the campaign trail, but instead he said it is up to Congress to change the law.
“Sessions has a long history of opposing marijuana reform, and nothing he said at the hearing suggests he has changed his mind,” Piper said. “Hopefully he will clarify his position in his written response to Senators’ questions.””After finally being put on the spot and questioned on the issue, we are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions’ plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday,” agreed Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “If anything, his comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states.”
“If Sessions wants to be an Attorney General for ALL Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention,” Altieri said.“The vague answers given by Senator Jeff Sessions during today’s Attorney General confirmation hearing provided little comfort for the 2 million American patients who rely on state-run medical cannabis programs to provide them with physician-recommended medicine,” said Mike Liszewski, director of Governmental Affairs at Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “Each of the 44 states that have medical cannabis programs, including 15 states with patient access to CBD, such as Sessions’ home state of Alabama, technically violate federal law.
“While it is encouraging the President-elect Trump’s incoming press secretary has said Sessions will abide by Trump’s position on medical cannabis, Sessions has yet to make such a commitment to respect state medical cannabis laws,” Liszewski pointed out. “With that said, Sessions still has an opportunity to set the record straight and pledge that he will respect medical cannabis patients and the state programs upon which they rely. Similarly, Congress can put the issue to rest by passing legislation to respect state medical laws.”
Meanwhile, MPP, NCIA Say Glass Half FullRobert Capecchi, director of Federal Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said he saw some positive signs in the hearing. “It is notable that Sen. Sessions chose not to commit to vigorously enforcing federal prohibition laws in states that have reformed their marijuana laws,” Capecchi said. “He also recognized that enforcing federal marijuana laws would be dependent upon the availability of resources, the scarcity of which poses a problem. He was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach and he passed on it.
“It’s also promising that Donald Trump’s spokesperson said earlier in the day that the next attorney general would follow the president-elect’s lead on the issue,” Capecchi said. “President-elect Trump has made it clear that he supports states’ rights to establish their own marijuana policies. Considering both Sen. Sessions and Mr. Spicer’s comments, we remain cautiously optimistic that the incoming administration will continue the current policy of not interfering with individuals and entities acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.”“In today’s hearing, Senator Sessions indicated that the Justice Department’s current guidelines for marijuana policy enforcement are ‘truly valuable’ in setting departmental priorities,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “That belief, along with the support for state sovereignty on cannabis policy expressed by President-elect Trump and his team, should lead Sen. Sessions to maintain the current federal policy of respect for state-legal, regulated cannabis programs if he is confirmed as Attorney General. “Sen. Sessions also highlighted the conflict created by a Congress that has failed to reflect the will of the voters on cannabis policy,” Smith said, choosing the sunniest possible interpretation of Sessions’ remarks regarding enforcing the law until Congress changes it. “Voters in 28 states, representing approximately 60 percent of the nation’s population, have now chosen some form of legal, regulated cannabis program. National polling shows that 60 percent of Americans believe cannabis should be legalized. It’s time for federal lawmakers to represent the clear choices of their constituents.
“The current federal policy, as outlined by the Cole Memo, has respected carefully designed state regulatory programs while maintaining the Justice Department’s commitment to pursuing criminals and prosecuting bad actors,” Smith said. “In return, the responsible cannabis industry has helped countless critically ill patients, contributed billions of dollars to the economy and to tax coffers, taken marijuana out of the criminal market and put it behind a regulated counter, and dealt a significant blow to international cartels and traffickers.”
Congresswoman Lee: Not Enthusiastic About SessionsOf course, there are some big issues — among them race and gender — involved in Sen. Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General which extend well beyond the cannabis industry. After all, his nomination for a federal judgeship was blocked by a GOP-controlled Senate back in 1986. (The reasons given at the time were unsavory racial comments made by Sessions over the years.)
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California), therefore, was distinctly less upbeat in her assessment of Sen. Sessions. “The Justice Department is our nation’s best tool for protecting civil and human rights and preventing discrimination from consuming our society,” Congresswoman Lee said. “Senator Jeff Sessions’ long career of opposing civil rights disqualifies him as a candidate for the office of Attorney General.
“Senator Sessions’ record of hate speaks for itself,” Congresswoman Lee said. “This is a man who voted against the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, opposes Roe v. Wade, and has demonstrated hostility toward the LGBT community. In 1986, the U.S. Senate deemed him unqualified to serve as a federal judge because of his blatantly racist comments.
“With this nomination, the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress have signaled that their first priority will be to drag America back into the past,” Congresswoman Lee said. “We will not stand idly by as Republicans attempt to undermine our judicial system and roll back protections for civil and human rights. Senator Jeff Sessions is wholly unfit to serve as Attorney General.”