It’s no secret Jeff Sessions does not like marijuana. He prosecuted it vigorously as a U.S. attorney and opposed weakening of any marijuana laws in the Senate.
But Sessions is not president; he is the attorney general and his values do not seem to line up with the president.
President Trump thinks marijuana should be legal for medicinal use and that can be determined by individual states.
However, Sessions has taken active steps in recent days, that could force federal law enforcement officials to revert back t stricter marijuana enforcement — even in states where it has been made legal.
Federal marijuana laws remain in place. However, since 2014, Congress has passed an annual rider that calls for no money to be spent on prosecuting marijuana use whether medical or recreational in states that have legalized weed — so long as the people involved are in compliance with state laws.
The additional provision has been critical in enabling suppliers to invest in their operations without fear they would be shut down in the short term. The rider is supposed to come up for a vote on March 23, and Sessions has sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them not to pass it this time.
He said we are in the middle of an historic drug epidemic and a potentially long-term increase in violent crime. He asked that he be free to use “all laws available” to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States,” Sessions said in his announcement. “…Federal law is the supreme law of the land.”
But who supports this war?
Polls show 94 percent of Americans – and 91 percent of Republicans – support medical marijuana, and two-thirds of Americans and more than half of Republicans support making it legal for recreational use.
Eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use, 31 states allow medical marijuana and 46 allow cannabis and cannabis compounds to be used in medicines.
The House of Representatives approved the first rider in 2014 by a 219-189 margin with 49 Republicans voting for it. Its most consistent sponsors are Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — both Republicans. The lawmakers had threatened to block all Justice Department nominees until Sessions changes his tune.
In an era of historically low cooperation among the parties, this measure has passed every year with Republicans in control of Congress and, since 2017, with a Republican in the White House.
Candidate Trump promised to get tough on the border to stop the flow of opioids, cocaine and other dangerous drugs. But he made clear on the trail he did not intend to do what Sessions is doing and vigorously pursue marijuana prosecutions.
“I think medical should happen,” he said in October 2015. “Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states. It should be a state decision … I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason the marijuana really helps them … but in terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state-by-state issue.”
Governors are counting on Trump’s indifference to spell doom for Sessions’ initiative.
“Even though there’s fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes,” according to the Rolling Stone. “And governors say so far Sessions’ opposition hasn’t had an impact on the ground.”
Trump supporters should hope it stays that way. Sessions risks a dangerous confrontation with states and legitimate businesses from which there would be no easy escape for the administration.
It would be a self-inflicted wound. The president has set out a policy that is popular, workable and practical. The will of the people, as told to pollsters and as reflected in election results at the state and national levels, is not for a sharp crackdown on legal businesses that have been given every indication they would be allowed to continue.
It’s time the president direct his attorney general to follow through on the promises the campaign made to the American voters. We have one president, and he is not Jeff Sessions.
Brian McNicoll is a former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a former senior writer for the conservative Heritage Foundation.
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