By Benjie Cooper
YouTube: Lucid’s Vlog
Attorney General, Jeff Sessions manages to create a lot of buzz in the cannabis world, as well as the rest of the country every time he opens his mouth to say something about cannabis. It’s no secret that the former Alabama senator is a staunch opponent of marijuana, skeptical of its medical benefits, and has been looking to do something about the influx of legalization ever since he took office a year ago.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (formerly Rohrabacher-Farr) amendment protects medical cannabis industries and patients in legal states by barring the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with them. But in May 2017, Sessions petitioned congressional leaders to repeal the amendment so that his department could prosecute medical marijuana providers.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions,” he wrote referring to the opioid crisis currently being faced in the United States, “particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”
During a speech in Richmond, Virginia earlier in the year, said he realized that his point of view on the issue was unpopular but that he did not see the widespread availability of cannabis as the answer. He said, “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.”
If Sessions were to pay better attention to world news and modern cannabis research outside the United States, he might notice the sharp surge in medical marijuana laws being passed in countries spanning the globe and discover the reasons why it is happening. It doesn’t take an attorney general to figure out that this phenomenon isn’t because cannabis is just ‘slightly less awful’ than heroin.
Just ask the many epileptic children whose parents give them CBD so they can live life without the sometimes hundreds of seizures that they can potentially suffer through each day.
But during confirmation hearings last January, Sessions pointed out that he intended just to do his job the way he was supposed to. He said, “One obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state, and distribution of it, an illegal act. If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It’s not so much the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job to enforce laws effectively as we’re able.”
On February 14, 2014, then Deputy Attorney General, James Cole issued a memorandum (Cole Memo) to United States Attorneys that outlined eight priorities for the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) against cannabis-related activities.
- Prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors
- Prevent criminals from profiting from the sale of cannabis
- Prevent inter-state marijuana trafficking
- Prevent state-authorized cannabis activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity
- Prevent firearms from being used in cannabis cultivation and distribution
- Prevent drugged driving
- Prevent marijuana cultivation on federal and public lands
- Prevent marijuana possession or use on federal property
The memo went on to outline details of possible prosecution in cases where funds from marijuana-related activity that are being routed through financial institutions could form the basis for a money-laundering charge.
But rather than providing true protections for cannabis activity, the Cole Memo was designed to give the Justice Department a list of priorities under the CSA that they were to consider when deciding where to focus their “limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant marijuana-related cases in an effective and consistent way.”
While giving the US Attorneys a handful of guidelines to prioritize cannabis prosecution in light of finite assets, Cole made it clear in the first paragraph that the Department was committed to, “enforcing the CSA consistent with Congress’ determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug that serves as a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.”
Jeff Sessions has talked a lot about tightening down on marijuana and on January 4, 2018, he acted by issuing a new memorandum to all federal attorneys to announce “a return to the rule of law and the rescission of previous documents.”
In a press release, the Department quoted Sessions as saying, “It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission.”
He continued, “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”
Instead of using the eight guidelines as outlined in the Cole Memo, Sessions states that decisions regarding the prosecution of marijuana activities should be made under principles in chapter 9-27.000 of the U.S. Attorney’s manual.
These principles, Sessions explains, are based off of ones laid down by Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti in 1980 that have been refined over time.
But even though this recent action should come as no surprise given Session’s continued verbal crusade against cannabis, it appears to go against a statement he made in November during a congressional hearing when he said, “Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes.”
But in-tune with the majority of public opinion, the backlash that resulted from the release of Sessions’ new memo was widespread across the country and on the internet from a variety of voices.
In a statement, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said, “Colorado has created a comprehensive regulatory system committed to supporting the will of our voters. We are expanding efforts to eliminate the black market and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and criminals. Today’s decision does not alter the strength of our resolve in those areas, nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities.”
U.S. Republican Mike Coffman says he wants to hold Sessions to something that he said to him previously. Coffman explained in a statement that, “before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this administration. Today’s action directly contradicts what I was told, and I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding (Justice Department) nominees until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
Co-sponsor of the amendment bearing his name, Oregon senator Earl Blumenauer tweeted, “This is outrageous. Going against the majority of Americans—including a majority of Republican voters—who want the federal government to stay out of the way is perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the Attorney General has made. One wonders if Trump was consulted—it is Jeff Sessions after all—because this would violate his campaign promise not to interfere with state marijuana laws. It’s time for anyone who cares about this issue to mobilize and push back strongly against this decision.”
As of yet, it is uncertain how the Department will proceed from this point or how the procedures would change under the new memo. Speaking with reporters, an anonymous senior official stated, “I can’t sit here and say whether or not it will or won’t lead to marijuana prosecutions.
Regardless of personal beliefs and willful ignorance of widely available information regarding cannabis, Sessions has stated that he is operating under guidelines set forth by Congress. He admitted the real solution to the problem when he said that Congress should pass a law to change the rule.
But between limited resources, strong public and political opposition, and billions of dollars and countless hours invested to legalize something that had no business being banned in the first place, Jeff Sessions will likely face a serious uphill battle at this point if he does actually decide to step-up cannabis prosecution; even with federal powers.