The nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General of the United States terrifies even Republican cannabis reform proponents. Hunter White, Communication Director for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, calls the appointment a “troubling development” for the marijuana reform movement.
“Unlike many other appointments Trump has made so far, the Attorney General has wide latitude to shape policy independent of the executive,” White says. As noted in several publications upon his appointment, Mr. Sessions supports drug prohibition policies.
“He has opposed reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders,” White laments. “He derailed the CARES act of 2015/2016, authored by Senator Rand Paul, which would have rescheduled marijuana. He has repeatedly spoken out against President Obama’s comments about the relative safety of marijuana, he has endorsed and espoused factually inaccurate and alarmist refer madness rhetoric.”
White puts it succinctly: “Sessions was the worst possible choice for the marijuana reform movement that Trump could have made. He is such an awful choice that he makes Chris Christie and Rudy Guliani look reasonable on the issue.” While some of Trump’s statements don’t terrify cannabis reformists, Sessions could potentially run amok.
“While Trump has, at various times, and in various ways stated that he thinks states should be able to do what they want about the issue, that does not mean that he will actually monitor Jeff Sessions and prevent him from taking his own actions,” White says.
Congressional protections for medical marijuana states are set to expire in December of this year. Currently, these federal rider bill provisions are the only steps congress has taken to stop the DOJ and the DEA from halting state medical marijuana programs.
“Without Congressional actions, the protections will end and there will be nothing to stop Jeff Sessions from waging the war on marijuana he has repeatedly endorsed,” White fears. “Further, with eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the need for extended congressional protections for recreational programs becomes all the more pressing as currently, there is nothing stopping the DOJ or DEA from stopping those programs themselves.” The outlook however is not all doom and gloom, White assures. Glimmers of hope remain.
“With the 2017 election came a unified Republican Government with Republicans controlling both chambers of congress, and the executive branch,” he says. “This creates an opportunity for congress to actually work after their six-year vacation under Obama, and finally fix the outdated federal marijuana laws. If congress acts, and reforms the federal law quickly, there will be nothing Jeff Sessions can do to stop it besides set rigid federal enforcement standards for medical and recreational states.” Currently, there’s no indication that congress wants to reform federal marijuana laws – other than public sentiment.
“With eight states now endorsing recreational marijuana, 28 states with fully functioning medical marijuana programs, and 44 states with some form of medical marijuana, the message from the American people is clear. Americans do not want to see a return to how things use to be, they do not want marijuana to be illegal, and they do not want the federal government to actually stop reform from happening,” White surmises. The political cost might be high enough to prevent a full-scale reversal of the current wave of reform.
“Due to the political price that would be paid by the Trump administration, and to the Republican party as a whole if they were to be complicit in allowing Jeff Sessions to wage his war on marijuana, the reality is that he may have the power to wage his little war, but not the political capital to do it,” White says. “Further, the cost associated with prosecuting hundreds of thousands of legal marijuana retailers and growers across the country, and in enforcing those laws alone would probably prohibit a wide scale reversal of the tide of reform.”
The nomination, and eventual confirmation of Jeff Sessions, is a devastating blow for the marijuana industry and the marijuana reform movement as a whole. “It seems to signal a wide disconnect between what Trump said, and what he is doing, it does not mean we will see a return to the bad days of the 1970’s and 1980’s Nixon/Regan Era of the drug war,” he says, saying ‘The Nightmare’ scenario for the cannabis reform movement is quite possible.
“Sessions could, by himself singlehandedly shut down the entire medical marijuana industry as of Jan 1st 2017, and could shut down the entire recreational industry on his first day in office,” the RAMP says. “The best possible scenario is Trump keeps a muzzle on the old Drug War dog preventing him from interfering with the states as he promised on the campaign trail, and congress acts quickly to de schedule marijuana to keep the recreational and medical industries safe from the DOJ and DEA.”
A 90%+ retention rate for a congress apathetic to cannabis reform does not bode well for marijuana reformists in the face of Mr. Sessions.
“There is not much we can do but wait and see,” White says. .