Sessions Stays Off the Grass

Why the attorney general might be reluctant to target state-licensed marijuana merchants


Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved swiftly to encourage the use of mandatory minimum sentences and civil asset forfeiture, two major weapons of a war on drugs he seems bent on escalating. But six months after taking office, Sessions, despite his well-known anti-pot prejudices, has not challenged the legalization of marijuana in any serious way, and it is starting to look like he may never do so.

Last week the Associated Press reported that an advisory panel Sessions charged with studying the issue "has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general's aggressively anti-marijuana views." While that may seem surprising, there are sound practical and political reasons for Sessions to think twice before trying to shut down the state-licensed marijuana businesses that blatantly violate federal law every day.

Sessions has made no secret of his displeasure at the ongoing collapse of marijuana prohibition. But so far his concerns have not resulted in any prosecutions, forfeitures, or even threatening letters. Nor has he tried to challenge state marijuana laws in federal court.

Instead Sessions has been waiting for advice from the Justice Department's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. According to the A.P., which obtained parts of the task force's unpublished interim report, that advice is "vague" and "tepid," recommending a wait-and-see approach little different from the Obama administration's.

The report does say the Justice Department "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-legal cannabusinesses. But the task force does not advocate any of those options, and Sessions does not seem inclined to scrap the Cole memo, which he has called "truly valuable in evaluating cases."

The memo 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 so ambitious (e.g., preventing marijuana from crossing state lines) or so broad (e.g., preventing "adverse public health consequences") that they could always be used as a pretext for prosecution.

Sessions, who as a senator complained that the Obama administration was not taking the memo's conditions seriously enough, 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. If he is not satisfied by their response, Sessions theoretically could take matters into his own hands, but a cannabis crackdown would not necessarily deliver results he likes.

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. So would 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. While running for president, Donald Trump repeatedly said he favors allowing medical use of marijuana, as 29 states now do. Trump was less keen on legalizing recreational use but said the decision should be left to the states.

Abandoning that commitment to marijuana federalism would be politically risky. According to a Quinnipiac University poll completed last week, 61 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, which makes that policy considerably more popular than Trump. An even larger majority, 75 percent, opposes federal interference with state marijuana laws.

Sessions can't stop marijuana legalization, but he could slow it down. The fact that he has not tried suggests that even an old-fashioned pot prohibitionist who thinks "good people don't smoke marijuana" can see the disadvantages of pursuing a policy that is unpopular as well as ineffective.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. OT:

    The North Korean threat has gotten out of hand: now they’re threatening Guam!

    Do you have *any idea* how many innocent people would die if they capsized the island with a nuclear strike?!?

    Hell, even if it was only a glancing hit, the rocking effect as it see-sawed back and forth would still do tens of millions in property damage…

  2. Someone PLEASE get Sessions’ ass on grass so that the dude will chill out and mellow!
    (The REAL grass here in this case, I mean).

    “Stays off the Grass”, my ass!!! (Metaphorically here this time, of course, now). The man is on geezer-self-righteousness, old-fart grass! And fossilized-mind smack and crack and everything else!

    DOWN with the geezer gerontocracy!

  3. So, it would seem no matter how the media portrays Sessions with a parade of horribles, Sessions as AG is mostly an enforce the law kind of public servant. Since he is deferring to states that legalized marijuana but is vigorously enforcing federal law on other drugs, push politicians to legalize all drugs.

  4. Sessions also may be reluctant to further irk a boss who has been publicly castigating him for weeks…

    Any political capital he had is draining fast. Under the radar is the better of the two options for someone in that situation. Let’s not forget that Sessions was in the Senate long enough to know how to do nothing. Let’s hope that’s what’s happening.

  5. “Get off of my lawn…”

  6. Sessions may lay off pot smokers because he’s too busy throwing reporters in jail to stop leaks or punishing sanctuary cities. Sessions is clearly seeking to save his job by turning himself into Trump’s bulldog. It’s hard to believe that Trump, who scored more coke than Glen Campbell and Tanya Tucker put together, will care about cracking down on pot smokers, but you never know. Keep your fingers crossed, Jake.

    1. Yes, lets corss our fingers rather than push Representatives to legalize or at least decriminalize all drugs.

      1. *cross

        Damn Reason and its glitchy website.

  7. Sessions, despite his well-known anti-pot prejudices, has not challenged the legalization of marijuana in any serious way, and it is starting to look like he may never do so.

    Or maybe that’s just what he wants you to think…

  8. Sessions is not as bad as Holder. Who could ever have imagined?

  9. It’s beyond me how Sessions thought that getting tough on marijuana would be anything but a political non-starter in 2017.

  10. 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!

    Please sign at MoveOn!

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