Protecting Medicinal Cannabis From Sessions

By Kyle Swartz

July 31, 2017

U.S. Attorney General Sessions is hurting.

He was the latest in the line of targets of President Trump, who derided his AG as “weak” and “beleaguered.” In last week’s shocking NYTimes interview, Trump said he would never had appointed the AG had he known that Sessions would have recused himself from the Russian investigations.

Surprising, yes. Politically fatal for the AG? No. Sessions refused to take the bait to resign, telling Trump that if he wants the AG gone, the president will have to fire him himself.

And the cannabis industry said: too bad.

Sessions poses the greatest risk to the nation’s emerging marijuana industry. He’s infamously anti-pot. Last week, Sessions was poised to announce new federal crackdowns on the substance, following the long-awaited release of a study by the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The group, which Sessions heads, was to announce their findings “no later than July 27.”

That date has passed with no announcement. One can wonder whether Trump’s sudden public lambasting of Sessions delayed announcement until the political climate surrounding the AG has cooled off. Or like many things in government it’s simply delayed.

Hoping that Sessions may halt his plans for cannabis crackdown in light of Trump’s anger, though, is probably wishful thinking.

While we wait for Sessions’ next move, a bipartisan group of legislators have sought to circumvent the AG by pushing pro-pot legislation to protect medicinal markets.

Their bill is known as the CARERS Act. It’s short for the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act. It would let state medicinal laws override federal regulations on cannabis.

Specifically the proposed legislation aims to help patients suffering from epilepsy or seizures who can better control their symptoms through pot.

The bill was first introduced in 2015 by Democrat senators Cory Booker and Kirstin Gillibrand, along with their Senate colleague, Republican Rand Paul. A version of the CAREERS Act reintroduced this month now has three additional backers: Republican Senators Mike Lee and Lisa Murkowski, along with Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

In addition to protecting states’ medicinal markets from federal crackdown, the bill would also permit U.S. veterans to obtain legal weed. Doctors at Veterans Affairs hospitals would be allowed to prescribe cannabis, which is currently forbidden under federal law.

The backers of the bill believe in the healing power of pot for patients with severe symptoms, and in the rights of states to decide on medicinal marijuana for themselves.

Whether this bill sees the light of the Senate floor remains to be seen. Congress is facing enormous problems of its own after the failure to repeal Obamacare. It’s likely the Senate will want to tackle larger issues that could bring significant change (and the chance for victory) like tax reform. Is there room in the Senate’s schedule for protecting medicinal marijuana? And would the bill have enough support?

Momentum does seem to be growing. Public opinion is shifting towards legal pot. When first introduced in 2015, the bill had only three backers in the Senate; its newest form has six. And President Trump, during his successful election campaign, said that decisions about medicinal cannabis are better left to the states.

Sessions may be hurting, but he’s resolute enough to tell the president to do his own dirty work, rather than willingly resign. And with Sessions as AG, tougher laws against marijuana will remain a strong possibility in the future. Legislators, industry businessmen and regulators alike would be wise to do whatever possible to proactively protect the legal cannabis markets through actions like the CAREERS Act.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com.

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