More Evidence That Jeff Sessions' Cannabis Crackdown May Never Materialize

A DOJ panel's recommendations reportedly do not include any significant changes in marijuana enforcement.



Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions' well-known anti-pot prejudices, a broad federal crackdown on marijuana in states that have legalized it seems unlikely in light of the recommendations from a Justice Department subcommittee charged with studying the issue. The Associated Press reports that the panel, part of the DOJ's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, "has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general's aggressively anti-marijuana views."

According to the A.P., which obtained a copy of the unpublished recommendations, the subcommittee does say officials "should evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind" the 2013 memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole that established a policy of prosecutorial restraint regarding state-licensed marijuana businesses. But the report does not settle on any of those options, and so far Sessions seems inclined to use the Cole memo as a guide to enforcement rather than scrapping it.

The memo, which Sessions has called "truly valuable in evaluating cases," leaves lots of leeway for more vigorous enforcement of the federal ban on marijuana. It lists eight "enforcement priorities" that could justify federal action against state-licensed marijuana producers and distributors, several of which are either impossible to fully achieve (e.g., "preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal…to other states") or so broad that they could always be used as a pretext for a crackdown (e.g. preventing "adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use").

As Mike Riggs noted here last Friday, Sessions recently sent Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson a letter asking how they plan to address several concerns related to the enforcement priorities, including interstate smuggling, stoned driving, and underage consumption. "Please advise as to how Washington plans…to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors," Sessions wrote. He also pointedly noted that the Cole memo says "nothing herein precludes investigation or prosecution, even in the absence of any one of the factors listed above, in particular circumstances where investigation and prosecution otherwise serves an important federal interest."

In short, Sessions could cause a lot of trouble for the newly legal cannabis industry without bothering to retract the Cole memo, which is vague and ambiguous enough to accommodate policies ranging from laissez-faire to prosecution and forfeiture threats that put many or most marijuana merchants out of business. There are several reasons to think Sessions' approach will land somewhere in the middle.

Sessions has been in charge of the Justice Department for six months, and so far his hostility toward marijuana legalization has not gone beyond rhetorical expressions of concern. It has not resulted in prosecutions, forfeitures, or even threatening letters to cannabusinesses. Nor has Sessions signaled that he plans to challenge state marijuana laws in federal court. Instead he punted the issue to a committee, which settled on a wait-and-see position that the A.P. describes as "tepid" and "vague." By contrast, Sessions acted swiftly to step up the war on drugs in other ways, reviving federal "adoption" of civil forfeitures initiated by state or local agencies and establishing a tougher charging policy that is apt to result in more mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Sessions may recognize that a full-blown cannabis crackdown would not necessarily deliver results he would like. Since all but one of the eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use allow home cultivation, shutting down state-licensed cannabusinesses would undermine federal enforcement priorities by making production and distribution less visible and harder to monitor. Likewise a lawsuit that successfully challenged state licensing and regulation of marijuana merchants as contrary to the Controlled Substances Act.

Sessions also may be reluctant to further irk a boss who has been publicly castigating him for weeks over his handling of the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Although the A.P. says the president's "personal views on marijuana remain mostly unknown," Trump during his campaign repeatedly said medical use of the plant should be allowed and that states should be free to legalize recreational use as well (although he does not think that's such a good idea). Abandoning that commitment would be politically risky for Trump, given that most Americans support marijuana legalization and even more—71 percent, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac poll—say the federal government should not interfere with it.

NEXT: They Won't Stop at Backpage

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  1. Of course it won’t materialize. After seeing the first three episodes of Jeff Sessions’ Cannabis Crackdown, even The CW passed.

    1. I have the sinking suspicion that there is something crucial to this performance piece that I’m missing.

      1. Radley Balko tweeted the media matters piece that calls “cosmopolitan” a slur set to an anti-semitic dog whistle beat.

        If you’re familiar with her oeuvre, or just google search, you’ll find “cosmopolitan” is practically Ms. Postrel’s favorite word. Alt-right, alt-right, alt-right…

  2. You know, this all wouldn’t have been a problem if Obama just took it off the schedule. He had the power and he didn’t.

    The lefties still make excuses for that. One of the few things I had hope for in that presidency and he couldn’t even do that.

    1. Eric Holder spent most of his pre-Obama career enforcing harsh drug and crime policies in cities.

    2. Anything Obama could have done by fiat, Trump and his drug-warrior friend could have reversed. You could be an optimist and note that Obama was also the most pro-liberalization of cannabis laws of any president in any of our lifetimes. But for some strange reason you feel the need to blame him for something Jeff Sessions is doing.

      By the time his term ended his mindset was still at letting states experiment and inform the issue over time, as happened with gay marriage. He calculated that it wasn’t time yet to take major federal action. We both can agree that he wasn’t aggressive enough, though.

    3. Part 1

      Obama refused to answer these basic questions about tobacco & alcohol in this 2016Jun09 communication reproduced below. Perhaps that is a function of his addiction to tobacco/nicotine and the fact that upon becoming President he changed his dosage form from smoking cigarettes to chewing nicotine gum.

      5:07 PM, Thursday


      President Obama,

      The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) contains the following:
      “The Congress makes the following findings and declarations:
      (1) The Congress has long recognized the danger involved in the manufacture, distribution, and use of certain psychotropic substances for nonscientific and nonmedical purposes, and has provided strong and effective legislation to control illicit trafficking and to regulate legitimate uses of psychotropic substances in this country. Abuse of psychotropic substances has become a phenomenon common to many countries, however, and is not confined to national borders. It is, therefore, essential that the United States cooperate with other nations in establishing effective controls over international traffic in such substances.”

    4. Part 2

      Tobacco & alcohol are psychotropic (mood-altering) substances, affecting mental activity, behavior, or perception.
      Tobacco & alcohol are the two most deadly & dangerous of all drugs.
      Tobacco drug use accounts for more drug deaths (~480,000 tobacco drug deaths/year in the U.S.A.) than the summation of the drug deaths from the use of all other drugs, including alcohol, combined!

      Tobacco meets the definition of a schedule I controlled substance.
      Alcohol meets the definition of a schedule II controlled substance.

      Tobacco & alcohol are unconstitutionally exempt from the CSA in violation of the Equal Protection Clause [21 U.S.C. ? 802(6)].

      Are there any scientific and/or medical purposes for the use of the psychotropic substances tobacco & alcohol? If there are, what are these scientific & medical purposes for the use of tobacco & alcohol?
      What are the legitimate uses of the psychotropic substances, tobacco & alcohol, in this country?
      What is(are) the reason(s) that tobacco & alcohol are exempt from the CSA?

      Do you acknowledge that the CSA violates the Equal Protection Clause?
      Why do you enforce the CSA when it violates the Equal Protection Clause?
      Why haven’t you called for Congress to either:
      1) Repeal the exemptions of tobacco & alcohol and classify tobacco as a schedule I controlled substance and alcohol a schedule II; or
      2) Repeal the entire CSA and abolish the DEA?

    1. Is this good news or bad news?

      1. Participants were given a description of a fictional evildoer who tortured animals as a child, then grows up to become a teacher who murders and mutilates five homeless people.

        Half of the group were asked how likely it was that the perpetrator was a religious believer, and the other half how likely that he was an atheist.

        Never mind, it’s dumb news.

        1. Like your birth announcement!

          1. Sick burn, yo.

    2. other atheists, it says, not themselves.

  3. On topic:

    Good to see Sullum is more knowledgeable on Trump’s marijuana views than the Associated Press.

    Reason delivers less-fake news!

  4. “Please advise as to how Washington plans…to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors,” Sessions wrote.

    The same way the Department of Justice ensures its mandate is fulfilled effectively day in and day out?

    1. “Please advise as to how Washington plans…to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors,” Sessions wrote.

      You could substitute tobacco, liquor, guns, and fireworks in there and ask Jeff how he made out as Alabama AG on that score.

  5. Over at National Review, they’re pulling out all the stops to appear as “reasonable” while peddling the same tropes about cannabis:…..ions-costs

    The author makes a veiled assertion in the title: “How Much Should Society Stigmatize Marijuana?” (The assertion is that we should stigmatize marijuana). Then they proceed to hand pick a study of some college students’ performance to make some unclear point, probably meant to appeal to all those people in the majority for legalization.

    And these are the “moderate” Republicans, which usually means they are just as obsessed as Democrats in using bloated government to regulate what grown adults do in their private lives.

    That’s why I’m very skeptical.

    1. Because college students have no access to marijuana unless its legalized hurr durr. They used to be better than this.

      1. Exactly. They zero impact on use. If anything, keeping sales in the haddock market makes it easier for minors to get. The only real question is how much the state enjoys giving the drug business to street gangs who use the funds to arm themselves and take out their rivals and anyone else in the way.

        1. I could travel anywhere in the country and score pot in a day regardless of knowing no one in those locations.

          1. Hmm, i remember when it would go dry and you couldn’t find anything. And it was really hard in some small towns in the Midwest (although meth was everywhere)

        2. How did black become haddock?

          1. Once you go haddock you never go pollock.

        3. The amount of work the cops apply to taking out the gang’s competition depends on the gang’s contributions to the police union, and their retirement fund.

          Just like in Training Day

    2. To be fair, I believe NR’s official position on the matter is to abandon any federal enforcement and let states decide. They may have articles with opposing views, but it isn’t a stalwart drug warrior publication.

    3. The paper claims 11 -23% reduction, but that’s 11% of a standard deviation, not 11% of your grade.

      11% of a “standard deviation” is 11% of normal statistical noise. It is nothing.

  6. I don’t trust the guy

  7. RE: More Evidence That Jeff Sessions’ Cannabis Crackdown May Never Materialize
    A DOJ panel’s recommendations reportedly do not include any significant changes in marijuana enforcement.

    Now its the republican’s turn to waste billions of dollars on a product that relatively harmless and the American people want.
    Good thinking.

  8. I wish they would regulate trans fat with as much zealotry… there’s a real killer!

    1. Weed is the gateway and/or super highway to trans fat vis-a-vis the munchies. The feds got you covered.

  9. Of course the real issue is: what drug inspired that wall behind Jeff there?

  10. I’m glad states are legalizing pot. In fact, I’d love it if they stopped seeing it as another way to plug budget holes and deregulate it. But until the Feds decriminalize or legalize pot, it a bit like waiting for the other boot to drop…likely on our throats. I don’t trust government, period, but even less so when they have the laws and the means on their side but choose not to exercise that power. Not to mention all the other issues with the competing Federal and state laws. If I choose to use pot and buy a gun, I’m an automatic felon. It only takes one asshole AG to muck up the works with all the contradictory and confusing laws.

  11. If I was Washington State my solution to interstate smuggling would be lobbying Idaho to legalize it. Then you have a buffer state on each side! No need to drive all the way to Washington to buy it legally (for sale or recreation).

    1. What!? And give up those smugglers’ loot to another state. You must not be a bureaucrat.

  12. I first started smoking dope when I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam. That was almost half-a-century ago. Poor, hapless AG Jeff Sessions is living in the past, way in the past. I mean I’m so old I remember when a lid was actually a lid, and not the lame name of a baseball franchise store at the local mall. But I don’t smoke dope now. But that is more because I was spoiled at an early age in Vietnam which had dynamite dope, and frankly I prefer alcohol since it has always beeen my drug of choice. And the price of dope is really expensive. To me that’s the real crime here. Sessions seems to be a character out of that old propaganda film “Reefer Madness.” I think we ought to plant some dope on him, and then have President Donald Trump make the bust. Now there’s reality TV at its best. I can” t wait to see Trump say to Session: “You’re busted!” In fact, now that I think of it, we could film the bust in the Oval Office. Of course, as part of his punishment when he is serving his time in prison, Sessions will be issued his own personal smartphone, so Trump can continue his public humiliation of him which of course will be posted on the internet. After all, Trump prides himself as the Ernest Hemingway of Tweets.

  13. As long as Sessions can keep the hammer over our heads, he will gleefully do so & it seems pretty obvious by now Trump doesn’t give a shit about campaign promises. Absent major legal challenges & supportive public pressure the racist authoritarians will continue their control & fear tactics as long as they possibly can.

  14. The Don’s recent criticism of the AG was to get his undivided attention & their private conversations concerning marijuana. Sessions old prejudices ran rampant but are now curtailed.

  15. On topic:

    Good to see Sullum is more knowledgeable on Trump’s marijuana views than the Associated Press.

    Reason delivers less-fake news!

    My recent post: Product Dyno Review

    Sent from Honest Jvzoo Reviews

  16. Senator Cory Booker Introduces Legislation To Legalize Marijuana Nationally! — He says:

    >>>”More than half of American adults have tried marijuana, and its use is on the rise. Our nation’s arbitrary efforts to criminalize a substance that is less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes or fast food, has not only made our country less just, but our communities less safe.”

    “Our broken marijuana laws have perpetuated unequal justice under the law, failed to make us safer, wasted taxpayer dollars and taken precious resources away from investing in our communities. – That’s why I am introducing the Marijuana Justice Act.”

    Help end marijuana prohibition quick by signing Senator Booker’s MoveOn petition to support his new legislation – The Marijuana Justice Act!

    See Cory Booker’s “Marijuana Justice Act” at MoveOn.

  17. Yup!

    I as well think this will never materialize, and that’s good!

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