Attorney General Confirmation: Sessions Talks About Cannabis
January 12, 2017
Confirmation Hearings Begin
As the new Attorney General goes through his confirmation hearings, we are reminded about the profound effect Senator Jeff Session’s nomination could have on the cannabis industry. His past positions on both medical and recreational cannabis are troubling to most in the business of legal pot. Well over 50% of the US now supports legalized cannabis and most states have cannabis legislature in place, yet, we are now faced with an incoming attorney general who joked in 1986 that the Ku Klux Klan was, “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” Of course, opinions change with time and these hearings are our first glimpse into the mind of Sessions and the direction he may take with his new position.
This week, Senator Mike Lee of Utah was first in questioning Sessions about his stance on the cannabis industry. Senator Lee probed sessions on his stances around whether there is a concern about the current approach the US government is taking with medical cannabis, specifically, how the state’s laws directly conflict with federal laws. “It’s not so much the Attorney General’s job to decide which laws to enforce, we should do our job and enforce laws as effectively as we are able.”
Hardline Stance on Pot
From this statement alone, Sessions could appear to reiterate his hardline stance on cannabis, however, the senator went on to imply to Senator Leahy, that a “problem of resources,” may focus the new Attorney General’s attention away from legal cannabis. Session’s also commented that if “[Prohibition] is not desired any longer, then Congress should pass a law to change the rule.”
This is good news from a man who openly stated that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” After the hearing, several of the “bad people” that do smoke marijuana spoke out in regards to Senator Session’s statements. The differing opinions oscillated from gloomy storm clouds to subdued silver linings.
What Industry Insider's Think
Within the storm clouds we find NORML’s Executive Director Erik Altieri, who said that, “[Session’s] comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states.”
RELATED: AN OPEN LETTER TO JEFF SESSIONS
Similarly, Mike Liszewski, the ASA’s Director of Government Affairs, announced, “The vague answers given by Senator Jeff Sessions during today’s Attorney General confirmation hearing provided little comfort for the 2 million American patients who rely on state-run medical cannabis programs to provide them with physician-recommended medicine.
Drug Policy Alliance’s Executive Director, Ethan Nadleman took a milder approach by tweeting, “#Sessions declines to take a hard line on #marijuana during hearing, but his stance still differs from Trump's.”
NCIA’s Executive Director Aaron Smith seemed to be more optimistic about the influence of Donald Trump’s opinions on the new Attorney General saying that, “President-elect Trump and his team, should lead Sen. Sessions to maintain the current federal policy of respect for state-legal, regulated cannabis programs if he is confirmed as Attorney General.”
Finally, the Marijuana Policy Project’s Director of Federal Policies, Robert Capecchi, expressed, “It is notable that Sen. Sessions chose not to commit to vigorously enforcing federal prohibition laws in states that have reformed their marijuana laws. He also recognized that enforcing federal marijuana laws would be dependent upon the availability of resources, the scarcity of which poses a problem. He was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach and he passed on it.”
It appears the industry has yet to reach a consensus on the sessions hearings so far, providing us only a lukewarm idea of what is to come. However, a common thread exists within each of these statements. Senator Sessions expressed a mitigated version of the drug war dinosaur picture that many have been painting thus far. He gave us no clear answers about the real future of cannabis, whether or not the DEA still reserves the right to bust down our doors. Yet, he gave us two clear indications that cannabis could be left to its on its own in the coming administration.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I find it comforting that he felt the need to state that Congress was free to change the laws on cannabis prohibition, suggesting that the will of the people should be the overarching force governing the US and not his own anti-cannabis motives. I also find it hopeful that Senator Sessions pointed to the limited resources of the federal government as a limiting factor to his potential persecution of cannabis, implying that there may be larger things to focus on that just medical cannabis.
This, in combination with Trump’s support of, at least, medical cannabis, has me optimistic that there is some room to grow in the minds of our new political establishment. Still, many still see Sessions as the largest threat to medical cannabis in the USA today and he should be watched closely. As long as he is in the office of the Attorney General, make no mistake, the future of legal cannabis is uncertain at best.
I understand many have a different opinion about these hearings, so I invite you to watch a clip I separated on C-Span of Sessions with Senator Mike Lee. It is one thing to read the headline’s, but I also think it is important to watch the hearing yourself. I know it’s C-Span, but it’s only two minutes!