A former GOP congressman who consistently blocked marijuana reform efforts for years before losing a reelection battle in 2018 is running for Congress again, this time in a more conservative Texas district.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) announced on Thursday that he’s moving to Waco and running for a seat currently occupied by retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX). This comes almost one year after Sessions was defeated by Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) in his Dallas district. Allred was a civil rights attorney and former NFL player who supports medical cannabis and decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.
It’s safe to say that Sessions’s new campaign isn’t going to win a lot of favor with cannabis reform advocates.
The former congressman served as chair of the House Rules Committee, an influential panel where he was essentially able to singlehandedly prevent even the most modest marijuana reform measures from advancing to the floor. He blocked legislation that would allow banks to service cannabis businesses, protect state marijuana laws from federal intervention and expand military veterans’ access to medical cannabis, for example.
During the last two-year Congress alone, Sessions’s panel prevented more than three dozen marijuana-related measures from being considered by the full body for up-or-down votes.
“Texans said no to Pete Sessions already,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Being a carpetbagger in a neighboring district is going to be an anchor on his candidacy that will hopefully keep him far, far away from the halls of Congress.”
When Sessions lost last year as part of a wave of Republican defeats in the House, giving control to Democrats, the gears quickly shifted on cannabis.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) took Sessions’s place as Rules chair, promising early on to allow reform measures to reach the floor. Multiple reform amendments attached to spending bills have been cleared through his panel on the way to the floor, including a historic measure preventing the Justice Department from going after any state cannabis program, not just medical ones. He didn’t put up a fight over bipartisan marijuana banking legislation that passed in the House last month, either, and voted for it on the floor.
The Democratic chairman is also a cosponsor of four pieces of legislation to federally deschedule marijuana.
In contrast, Sessions seems to have a personal animus towards cannabis.
“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he said just before blocking one measure to prevent federal intervention in state cannabis laws last year. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”
Separately, Sessions claimed that cannabis is now more potent than it was when he was a young man—by a mathematically impossible factor.
“When I went to high school…in 1973, I graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful,” he said. “That becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing.”
In advance of last year’s election, a political action committee controlled by pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) paid for billboards in Sessions’s district highlighting his opposition to medical marijuana.
Late last year, however, a group of mothers of children who use medical cannabis met with Sessions, telling Marijuana Moment afterwards that he seemed “gracious” and “very receptive” to their concerns.
For Sessions to mount a successful bid for a new seat in Congress, he’s going to have to convince more than reform advocates that he’s qualified to represent them. Flores, the incumbent GOP congressman whose seat Sessions wants, told The Texas Tribune that “conservative leaders and community leaders in the district who are aware of Pete’s intentions have told me they would prefer someone who currently lives, works, and serves in our communities.”
“They strongly believe that we have ample talent here to serve as their next congressman or congresswoman,” he said.
Of course, even if Sessions were to win next year and return to the House, there’s no guarantee he’d go back to helming a congressional cannabis blockade in the Rules Committee. First, Republicans would have to regain a majority in the chamber in order for him to have a shot of taking up the gavel again. And second, there’s nothing that would require Republican leadership to reinstate Sessions back to his position on the panel even if he were elected as part of a new GOP majority.