The current U.S. Attorney General is outspoken against marijuana and marijuana legalization, but Congress has hampered his potential efforts to go after states with legal cannabis, at least for this fiscal year.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to his own statements, willfully ignores current science and public opinion in his stance on marijuana.
“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use,” Sessions said in a speech in March at Richmond, Va. “But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. — Jeff Sessions
He has not outlined specific plans to go after legal marijuana vendors and producers, but his reactionary stance has many in the industry worried, given that the U.S. Controlled Substances Act supersedes laws governing marijuana in the 44 states where it’s legal in some form.
Except where specifically expressed in the U.S. Constitution, federal law trumps state laws. This means, technically, FBI or Drug Enforcement agents could arrest legal pot producers and vendors, seize their assets and destroy their product at any time. The U.S. Attorney General could charge legal growers and sellers under the Controlled Substances Act — according to which, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, considered as deadly as heroin.
Sessions, a Republican who served as the Alabama attorney general before his career in the Senate from 1997-2017, has a long history of opposition to marijuana legalization, whether medical or recreational. He has compared the drug to heroin, though it’s not physically addictive and has never caused a recorded overdose death. He famously said “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” a quote which was widely reported in major media outlets.
Sessions is correct in calling his beliefs “unfashionable.” An April Quinnipac University poll of U.S. voters showed that 60 percent favor legalization. Medical associations and individual doctors throughout the country have called for the drug to be rescheduled. Even some conservative media outlets, traditionally against marijuana legalization, have expressed support. Michael Tanner wrote a February column in the grand dame of conservative magazines, the National Review, titled “Marijuana Policy Is Best Left Up to the States.”
It is likely because of this tide in public opinion that Congress muzzled Sessions’ potential ambitions to attack legal cannabis vendors and producers. In the budget Congress hammered out in late April, a specific provision prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from using any of its budget to go after medical cannabis sellers in the states and territories where it’s legal.
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States… to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana,” according to the text of the budget proposal, which, as of May 4, was passed by both the House and Senate and was on track for a presidential signature.
None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States… to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana — May 4, 2017 Department of Justice Ruling
Worrisome for marijuana producers and vendors is the fact the bill is only in effect through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. At that point, Congress would have to add the same language in the next budget bill to continue the protections. Also, the language in the act specifies “medical marijuana,” which leaves potential wiggle room for the DOJ to go after recreational suppliers.