Jeff Sessions’ Coming War on Legal Marijuana
There’s little to stop the attorney general nominee from ignoring the will of millions of pro-pot voters.
On Election Day, eight states voted to legalize recreational or medical marijuana, bringing the nationwide total of medical states to 29. In Florida, medical marijuana won nearly 2 million more votes than Donald Trump. Added up, 65 million people now live in states that authorize adult recreational use; more than half of all Americans have access to medical marijuana; and almost everyone else lives in a state that permits CBD, a non-psychoactive component of cannabis that helps treatment of juvenile epilepsy. It’s easier now to identify the six states that have done nothing to end the prohibition on marijuana than the ones that are breaking away from the federal law that treats marijuana the same as heroin.
There was another winner on November 8, however, and he has thrown up a serious challenge to the seemingly inexorable march of legal marijuana. By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana. As a U.S. Attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions said he thought the KKK “were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In April, he said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that it was a “very real danger” that is “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions, who turns 70 on Christmas Eve, has called marijuana reform a “tragic mistake” and criticized FBI Director James Comey and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for not vigorously enforcing a the federal prohibition that President Obama has called “untenable over the long term.” In a floor speech earlier this year, Senator Sessions said: “You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink… It is different….It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”
Sessions has not shared his plans on marijuana enforcement, but if he chooses, he will be able to act decisively and quickly—more so perhaps than with any other of his top agenda items such as re-doubling efforts to combat illegal immigration and relaxing oversight of local police forces and federal civil rights laws. With little more than the stroke of his own pen, the new attorney general will be able to arrest growers, retailers and users, defying the will of more than half the nation’s voters, including those in his own state where legislators approved the use of CBD. Aggressive enforcement could cause chaos in a $6.7 billion industry that is already attracting major investment from Wall Street hedge funds and expected to hit $21.8 billion by 2020.
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