Attorney General Jeff Sessions is continuing his war on cannabis. It increasingly looks like a one-man mission, though, rather than an assault with broad support. A recent national poll shows more than 60% of Americans favor legal pot. Earlier this month, Nevada’s recreational pot market opened to such demand that the state fears it could run out of product.
Nevertheless, Sessions this week may begin his long-mentioned crackdown on cannabis. He heads President Trump’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which is set to release recommendations for federal policies on drugs and public safety “no later than July 27,” according to a memo Sessions sent in April.
What’s the worst-case scenario? Members of the legal cannabis industry fear that the task force will draw parallels between marijuana and violent crime, and recommend harsher sentences for people caught producing, selling or using pot.
Sessions may have already tipped his hand to the extent that he believes federal law should interfere with legal cannabis. In a memo sent to Congressional leaders last May, Sessions requested that Congress do away with amendments stopping the Dept. of Justice from interfering with states’ rights for “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
In other words, Sessions believes cannabis regulations should be decided at the federal level, and not by states. That is counter to the Cole Memo, and would allow the DOJ to come after legal pot as it sees fit. Sessions listed several public-safety concerns as his rational.
He states that drug traffickers “already cultivate and distribute marijuana inside the United States under the guise of state medicinal laws.” This is a concern facing any cannabis regulator, and warrants strong systems to weed out potential criminal organizations from taking advantage of legal pot.
Sessions also argues that use of cannabis by teenagers impairs their mental development long-term. While he is correct in his concern — regulations are necessary to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors — he is overstepping the solution by suggesting this is a reason to crack down on medicinal cannabis.
Although he does not state it directly in the memo, Sessions does draw a link between cannabis and crime rates. He contends that Congress would be unwise to restrict the DOJ’s prosecutorial powers “in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”
Sessions provided case examples for his concerns regarding drug traffickers and underage users. For violent crime, he listed none. Perhaps because there is no legitimate link between legal cannabis and rising crime.
So it will be interesting to see what evidence the task force lists this week if their recommendations include a crackdown on cannabis for the sake of protecting public safety.
The other issue to keep an eye on with Sessions is his apparently deteriorating relationship with President Trump. In a much-covered interview with the New York Times, Trump openly criticized his attorney general for recusing himself from the ongoing Russia/election investigations.
While this has nothing to do with cannabis, it may put Sessions in a position where he is less likely to oppose Trump. (Or resign, as he reportedly offered to do last month.) Remember: during his successful campaign for the presidency, Trump said that recreational-cannabis decisions are best left to the states. He did not mention federal interference.
Would Sessions announcing anti-pot programs anger Trump or Trump’s base? Its very possible. What effect that may have on a federal law remains to be seen, however.
There are still many in Congress who oppose Session’ cannabis views. Most are Democrats, but there is solid support within the GOP. Two members of the Cannabis Congress are Republican. Others on the right, like the outspoken Sen. Ran Paul (R-Kentucky), simply believe that it’s states’ rights to decide for themselves on legal cannabis, without federal pressure.
All of this may soon come to a head, perhaps by later this week. Sessions may put the legal pot industry in a perilous place, while he himself is in a political situation not that much better, with dwindling support.
Kyle Swartz is editor of Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.