Republican Jeff Sessions is a staunch prohibitionist who once remarked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was okay” until he “found out they smoked pot” and now he’s the nation’s new top cop, confirmed in a 52 to 47 vote mostly along party lines.
The confirmation was expected, and now the cannabis community can only hope that the former Alabama Senator will allow state programs to operate uninhibited from federal interference in accordance with the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, realizing that during the election, which saw President Donald Trump emerge victorious, a record number of states enacted legal cannabis initiatives.
Sessions was one of just 16 US Senators to receive a failing grade on NORML’s Congressional Scorecard due to his ‘Just Say No’ views, which the advocacy group’s Political Director Justin Strekal called “out of step with mainstream America.”
“Our elected officials, now more than ever, know that marijuana policy is at the forefront of the minds of American voters and that we are willing and able to mobilize for it,” Strekal said in a statement. “We will never stop fighting for further marijuana reforms at the state level and much needed federal policy changes. With Americans throughout the country organizing and taking action, the fight for cannabis freedom will continue with renewed energy.”
Others in the industry are cautiously optimistic. Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said that the cannabis industry plays a key role in the 28 states where it is legal for either medical or adult use generating “billions of dollars in economic activity and [supporting] tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.” He indicated that any rollback or crackdown on legal state programs would just force people back into the informal markets.
“We look forward to Attorney General Sessions maintaining the current federal policy of respect for legal, regulated cannabis programs in the states, and we will work with him to do that,” Smith said in a Forbes report.
Marijuana Policy Project Director of Federal Policies Robert Capecchi said he believes that Sessions will maintain the current status quo as Trump is on the record as a supporter of states’ rights.
“When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo[es]’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings,” he said. “He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.”
Adam Eidinger, co-founder of the Washington D.C. advocacy group DCMJ, hopes that President Trump’s support for states’ rights will be enough to keep Sessions in check.
“Sessions is a failed war on drugs zealot who has gone so far as to suggest that marijuana offenders deserve the death penalty,” Eidinger said. “To say he is out of touch with the legalization wave rolling through the United States would be an understatement.”
During his confirmation hearings, Sessions remarked that if cannabis prohibition was “not desired any longer” at the federal level Congress “should pass a law and change the rule.” In his written responses to Senators, Sessions called the enforcement of cannabis in legal states “an emerging issue” and seemed to make a clear distinction between medical and adult-use statutes – which could be catastrophic if he decides to enforce federal law on one sector and not the other. During his hearings and in his written responses, Sessions was evasive in his answers regarding the cannabis industry.
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