Marijuana legalization may have a new hurdle to overcome. President-elect Donald Trump nominated Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican known for having a strong stance against drug policy reform, for attorney general of the United States.
Under the Obama administration, states have had tremendous leeway in creating their own cannabis regulations as federal prosecutors have chosen not to pursue cases against state-approved marijuana programs. Yet, supporters of marijuana legalization fear the new head of the Department of Justice could pull the plug on state marijuana programs with just a signature.
“Jeff Sessions should scare every regulator, government official, cannabis industry operator, patient and consumer across the country,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert on marijuana policy.
“In all, [he] could undo much of what has become the Obama Doctrine with regard to marijuana policy in the United States.”
According to Hudak, Sessions would have the power to make the FBI shut down marijuana operations nationwide and order the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to enforce the federal government’s prohibition on marijuana. The new DOJ leader could also put marijuana legalization in jeopardy by filing lawsuits against state and local governments that would force them to repeal or restrict any weed-friendly regulations.
Sessions has not been shy about his views on marijuana legalization.
“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions said at a Senate hearing in April.
“We need grown ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger.”
At this same hearing, Sessions expressed his concern that the loosening of marijuana laws has reversed the “progress” made on the reduction of drug abuse in America. According to the lawmaker, marijuana legalization will continue to damage lives and tear apart families. He also advocated for the Justice Department to send a “clearer” message regarding cannabis regulation.
Sessions’ position against using weed goes back at least 30 years. Joking about the Ku Klux Klan in 1986, Sessions said the group “was okay” except that many of their members smoked weed.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the country, but support for legalization has grown exponentially just in the last few years. Nearly half of all U.S. states have laws that legalize or decriminalize use of the drug in some form. A recent poll released by pro-legalization group Marijuana Reform revealed 60 percent of Americans want legal marijuana.
However, cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making marijuana illegal at the federal level just the same as heroin and LSD. If Sessions decides to fight marijuana legalization, the states would have a tough time defending themselves against the federal law.
“The law is crystal clear on this — what states are doing is a federal crime,” Hudak told CNN in a recent interview.
While marijuana legalization advocates were disappointed to hear Sessions will be taking the attorney general job, many think President-elect Trump will stick to his previous promise to let states decide cannabis regulation.
“President-elect Trump has said on multiple occasions that he respects states’ right to establish their own marijuana policies,” said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We would expect appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president to stick to the president’s position on this subject.”
Before offering the attorney general position, it is unlikely that Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump even discussed marijuana legalization. The President-elect is undoubtedly more interested in Sessions’ views on immigration than on legal weed. The incoming administration has more than enough issues to deal with and going after the growing marijuana industry will probably go on the back burner for now.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]