U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization. But in an interview on Thursday he was guarded about the Trump administration’s plans to push back against the growing number of states that are ending cannabis prohibition.
“I can’t comment on the existence of an investigation at this time,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think changing state laws have taken away the Department of Justice’s power to enforce the ongoing federal ban.
“I do not believe there is any argument that because a state legalizes marijuana that the federal law against marijuana is no longer existence,” he said. “I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states, and we will do our best to enforce the laws as we are required to do so.”
Sessions was responding to a suggestion from conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt about using federal racketeering laws to go after marijuana businesses.
“A lot of states are just simply breaking the law,” Hewitt argued. “A lot of money is being made and banked. One RICO prosecution of one producer and the banks that service them would shut this all down. Is such a prosecution going to happen?”
Sessions replied that he’s not sure an enforcement strategy could be so simple.
“I don’t know that one prosecution would be quite as effective as that,” he said. “We will analyze all those cases and I can’t comment on the existence of an investigation at this time. I hear you. You’re making a suggestion. I hear it. You’re lobbying.”
In a separate appearance at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday, Sessions elaborated on his disdain for society’s shifting attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs.
“We’ve got to reestablish first a view that you should say no. People should say no to drug use,” he said. “This whole country needs to be not so lackadaisical about drugs. … Much of the addiction starts with marijuana. It’s not a harmless drug.”
While a senator, Sessions was one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of cannabis law reform. During one hearing, for example, he said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
He also spoke out against legalization last month.
“I’ve never felt that we should legalize marijuana,” he said. “It doesn’t strike me that the country would be better if it’s being sold on every street corner.”
Also last month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expressed concerns about state cannabis reforms and said that the Justice Department is considering rescinding Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed local marijuana laws to proceed without much federal interference.
“We are reviewing that policy,” he said. “We haven’t changed it, but we are reviewing it. We’re looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is.”
But last week, Sessions indicated in appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is open to at least allowing more marijuana cultivation for research purposes.
“I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply,” he said in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has in recent weeks become a leading Congressional champion for medical cannabis.
A Gallup poll released on Wednesday found that 64% of Americans support legalizing marijuana. For the first time in the firm’s 48 years of polling on cannabis, a majority of Republicans are on board with ending prohibition.
People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week
Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.
Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.
The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”
In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.
To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.
The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.
“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”
Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”
“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.