Senators Urge Sessions to Keep Trump's Promise of Marijuana Federalism

The attorney general's private assurances, like his public threats, are vague and noncommittal.



Yesterday 11 senators sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter expressing concern about recent statements suggesting he plans to enforce the federal ban on marijuana against state-licensed businesses that serve recreational cannabis consumers. The senators, all of whom represent states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, urged Sessions to stick with the Obama administration's policy of leaving those businesses alone as long as their activities do not implicate the federal "enforcement priorities" listed in a 2013 memo from James Cole, then the deputy attorney general.

"On the campaign trail, then-candidate Trump stated that despite his personal views regarding marijuana use, legalization should be left to the states," note Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and nine of their colleagues. "It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public's health and safety….We believe that the Cole Memorandum provides a strong framework for effectively utilizing the DOJ's resources and balancing the law enforcement roles of the federal government and the states."

Two Republican senators, meanwhile, say Sessions gave them the impression that he would not try to shut down the cannabis industry in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, or the four states where voters approved legalization last November. "He told me he would have some respect for states' rights on these things," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Politico, "so I'll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places." Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said he did not get the sense from administration officials that Sessions plans a big shift in policy. "Nothing at this point has changed," Gardner told Politico. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said Sessions, prior to his confirmation, told Gardner marijuana enforcement "wasn't worth rising to the top and becoming a priority." According to a Justice Department spokesman contacted by Politico, "the department's current policy is reflected in the 2013 Cole memo."

These assurance are not exactly rock solid, especially since the Cole memo leaves a lot of leeway to crack down on state-legal marijuana suppliers, depending on how the federal enforcement priorities are interpreted. Yet both Politico and the New York Post make it seem as if opponents of marijuana prohibition overreacted to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's prediction of "greater enforcement" and Sessions' criticism of legalization, which he coupled with a pointed reminder that "it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

The headline over the Politico story is "Sessions Reassures Senators: No Pot Crackdown Imminent," which overstates what they say he said. "Some respect for states' rights" does not rule out more enforcement, and neither does the impression that "nothing at this point has changed." Politico's subhead says "worries about a shift in federal enforcement in states that have legalized recreational use may be overblown." Then again, they may not. And here is reporter Burgess Everett's lead: "The Trump administration is causing serious paranoia among marijuana advocates with its hints of a federal crackdown on recreational use." That sentence is doubly dismissive, since paranoia implies that fears of a crackdown are irrational while alluding to one of marijuana's reputed effects. And why "marijuana advocates"? Were opponents of alcohol prohibition "booze boosters"?

The Post's headline, "Sessions Hints That Feds Won't Be Cracking Down on Pot Use," more accurately reflects what Paul and Gardner said (although the real issue is production and distribution, not use). But reporter Chris Perez's lead is hyperbolic and contemptuous: "Potheads living in states where marijuana is legal can stop freaking out—the federal government won't be cracking down on recreational use after all, a report says." That is not what the report says, potheads is even more derogatory than marijuana advocates, and "freaking out" is another oh-so-clever pot reference that trivializes the legitimate concerns raised by supporters of legalization. Calling people who think marijuana should be legal "potheads" is like calling people who think alcohol should be legal "drunks."

Everett and Perez eventually acknowledge that Sessions' enforcement plans raise important issues regarding the division of powers between the federal government and the states. Both reporters quote Paul and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who signed the letter to Sessions, demanding that conservatives who claim to support the 10th Amendment be consistent instead of making a marijuana exception to their federalism. "While the issue may seem centered solely around cannabis," Perez writes, "the senators said it's also one of states' rights." No kidding. Some of us also think this story has something to do with individual autonomy and economic freedom. Reporters who cover the subject need not agree, but they should at least stop giggling about those silly potheads.

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  1. Yes, keep framing it as a business enterprise. Maybe that will jolt Trump and some GOP’ers back to conservative, free market mindsets. If they ever possessed that mindset in the first place.

    1. Trump never has been a free trader and neither have most conservatives, no matter how much window dressing they try to put on it.

  2. Bok’s artwork is really getting good. That one of Sessions almost looks real.

    And yes… pot is the most important thing for which we need to educate Trump. 20T in debt? “Don’t harsh my mellow, man!”

    1. So, we’re only allowed to talk about the most important topic at any one time? Only once that topic has been resolved are we allowed to then move on to the next most important topic? Do you really think Reason should only be covering the debt all day, every day until there is no debt?

      1. You made all those assumptions from my little comment? Are you in a bad mood this morning or really want me to answer those questions?

        1. I made no assumptions. I just asked questions so I could better understand your comment.

          So you weren’t being sarcastic when you called pot the most important thing we need to educate Trump on? Why did you bring up the debt in a totally unrelated article? Do tell.

          1. Yes, I was being sarcastic.

            The comment was based on my observation that Reason devotes more articles to drugs than it does the National Debt.

            But again… I guess Reason plays to their audience and if that’s what Libertarians want, I don’t care. It’s your site. I don’t have a site, as I have disagreements with Libertarians, Conservatives and Republicans. We all share a disdain for the far left Progressives and some other points, though.

            1. The comment was based on my observation that Reason devotes more articles to drugs than it does the National Debt.

              While I share your concern for debt, drugs are a pretty good proxy for self-ownership and self-determination. As such, pretty damned important.

              1. Right. – Science and widespread experience have shown marijuana is not addictive and is far less harmful than alcohol. – Yet, more than 600,000 innocent Americans are arrested for simple marijuana possession each year and made second-class citizens – for life! They will forever face large obstacles to decent employment, education, travel, housing, government benefits, and will always go into court with one strike against them. They can even have their children taken away!

                25 million Americans are now locked away in this very un-American sub-class because of this bogus “criminal” record. That has a horrible effect on the whole country, being a massive waste of human potential.

                The fraudulent marijuana prohibition has never accomplished one positive thing. It has only caused vast amounts of crime, corruption, violence, death and the severe diminishing of everyone’s freedom.

                There is no more important domestic issue than ending what is essentially the American Inquisition.

                1. Amen, brother John! Amen!

                2. Amen Brother, There is no more important domestic issue than this. Although in truth it is not really so much an American Inquisitional issue as an International one. You say marijuana prohibition. I say self ownership. Potatos – Potahtoes. Although, in point of fact, I think we are only talking about a somewhat outdated and obscure concept known as first principles.

    2. And yes… pot is the most important thing for which we need to educate Trump.

      …he said, deftly refuting a claim the article didn’t make.

      1. I didn’t read the article. I was expecting my Friday 7:00 AM Friday Funny and didn’t get it.

        That was me stomping my feet and pouting. The remark was a hit on Reason in general, as I see more articles about drugs than the debt. And that’s okay.

        I really don’t care. I’m not a Libertarian. It’s your site and you guys can do what you want.

        Happy Friday! would have been better if I got my cartoon 🙁

    3. 20T in debt because politicians have been diverting our attention with victimless crime social conservatism while they flushed our future down the crony capitalist drain.

  3. If miring Sessions in baseless investigations over non-existent ties to Russia is what it takes to keep him from immorally prosecuting the War on Drug Users, then I say go for it. Sometimes any cause of gridlock is acceptable.

    1. Baseless my ass.

      “He was literally conducting himself as a United States senator,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday. He said Mr. Sessions didn’t discuss matters related to Mr. Trump’s campaign.
      This lie falls apart under closer scrutiny; Wall Street Journal reports:

      The Trump administration says Attorney General Jeff Sessions was acting as a then-U.S. senator when he talked to Russia’s ambassador at last year’s Republican National Convention, but Mr. Sessions paid for convention travel expenses out of his own political funds and he spoke about Donald Trump’s campaign at the event. At the time Mr. Sessions met the Russian ambassador at the convention, he had been serving as chairman of Mr. Trump’s National Security* Advisory Committee for more than four months.

      *A NewsMax report from March 2016 suggests that Sessions was serving as chairman of Mr. Trump’s Foreign Policy Advisory Committee.

      Sessions traveled to the Donald Trump event using his own campaign money, he naturally spoke about Trump’s campaign at this event, and he was serving as chairman of Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Advisory Committee at the time he met with the Russian ambassador, but they want us to believe Sessions was “conducting himself as a US senator” and “didn’t discuss matters related to Mr. Trump’s campaign”.

      1. Keep on pluckin’ that chicken.

      2. So he should have flown back to Washington at government expense, gotten on a different plane, flown back to the convention city at government expense,, talked to the ambassador, flown back to DC at government expense, flown back to the convention at government expense, and wasted all that federal tax money?
        Even the narrow minded IRS allows a few extra days of sightseeing on a job interview – – – –

        1. So he should have flown back to Washington at government expense, gotten on a different plane, flown back to the convention city at government expense,, talked to the ambassador, flown back to DC at government expense, flown back to the convention at government expense, and wasted all that federal tax money?
          Even the narrow minded IRS allows a few extra days of sightseeing on a job interview

          Or he could have, you know, just answered the fucking question.

  4. The “drug war” has been lost for while…

    1. Quitter! I’ll bet a few more no-knock raids on the wrong house is ll we need to win!

    2. From the cops’ perspective I’d say it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Each new budget is major win.

      1. Not to mention all the civil forfeiture cash.

  5. 11 senators… 11. Thats almost 10% of senators…

    1. Actually it’s exactly 11%, lol.

  6. Jeez, what else could Congresscritters possibly do if they don’t like the enforcement of certain aspects of a law.

    The mind boggles.

    Ok. Sarc off. I’m beggining to suspect that there is some sort of secret pact among the legislative branch. One where they all agree to never, ever actually repeal any law. Lest the public begin to acquire the idea that the damned things can actually be eliminated.

  7. Seems to me, as I read all the fake news about the medical uses of the devil weed, that it cannot continue to be designated as class 1.
    Not to mention all that (by definition now) raced based states right stuff.

    1. Trump has made numerous strong statements distinguishing medical from recreational use of marijuana, and endorsing the former. I wouldn’t be surprised if he directed Sessions to move marijuana to Schedule two. Keeping it in Schedule 1 at this point just makes the government look silly (and worse).

      1. Like it hasn’t made it look silly for the last 50 years? If they had legalized it back then, we wouldn’t have this superpotent weed floating around that actually may not be so harmless in many cases.

  8. “He told me he would have > some respect < for states' rights on these things," Geez this is laughable, so let's hope His Royal Highness keeps his word.

    1. “Laughable” that an Alabaman would value “states’ rights”?

  9. If these Senators are so concerned, then maybe just maybe they should consider…oh I don’t know….doing their jobs? But that assumes they’re actually concerned. Anyway I’m sure writing a letter works just as well.

    1. Yeah, I’d have greater respect for Congress if the last thing I didn’t always hear about these MJ reform bills was that they “were introduced in the House/Senate”. I’d be happy if these bills were given a fair hearing and vote instead of always wasting away in Ye Olde Committee Dungeon.

  10. I am using it now & it’s awesome! I’ve signed up for my account and have been bringing in fat paychecks. For real, my first week I made ?350 and the 2nd week I doubled it & then it kinda snowballed to ?150 a day! just folllow the course.. they will help you out


  11. I can see what your saying… Raymond `s article is surprising, last week I bought a top of the range Acura from making $4608 this-past/month and-a little over, $10,000 this past month . with-out any question its the easiest work I’ve ever had . I began this five months/ago and almost straight away startad bringin in minimum $82 per-hr


  12. I am making $89/hour telecommuting. I never imagined that it was honest to goodness yet my closest companion is acquiring $10 thousand a month by working on the web, that was truly shocking for me, she prescribed me to attempt it. simply give it a shot on the accompanying site.


  13. Sounds like politics and personalities, not principle, will rule on this issue for this administration.

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