Why is Jeff Sessions So Opposed to Marijuana?

Lukas Barfield

July 3rd, 2017

Policy, Top News

After the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Marijuana Stamp Act in Leary v. United States in 1969, the US, for a short time, had no Federal marijuana law.  The reprieve was brief as the Controlled Substances Act was signed in 1972 by Richard Nixon. The Act categorized illegal drugs into 3 “Schedules’ according to their medical use and other factors. In the act, marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Schedule 1 narcotics have no known medical use.  The Act codified the Federal Government’s approach to marijuana for the next 40 years. Not until the historic Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which PROHIBITED the Department of Justice (DOJ) to use Federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana patients, caretakers and businesses in states where medical marijuana is legal, passed in 2014 as a rider in the Federal Budget, did the Federal Government’s war on marijuana slow down. From the outset of the new Trump administration, many marijuana advocates expected trouble, but up until recently thought medical marijuana would be out of the cross hairs of the new drug warrior Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions, the once long term Senator from Alabama, has never hidden his malice toward marijuana. He famously said “good people don’t’ smoke marijuana “and said “I liked the KKK until I found out they smoked marijuana.” He has hinted at a possible crack down on recreational marijuana, but until recently has been guarded with his stance on MMJ. That changed last week when a letter he sent to Congress was revealed in which he asked Congress for permission to go after medical marijuana states by not renewing the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. In the letter, which Sessions wrote personally, he cited the need to use the full force of the Controlled Substances Act. He wrote, “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives”.

The statement has baffled medical marijuana activist who cite studies that show states with medical marijuana laws have a decrease in opiate overdoses. In addition, statistics from the Drug Enforcement Agency have shown that importation of marijuana by international criminal gangs is down sharply. The decrease is thought to be correlated to the loosening of state marijuana laws, and contradicts Sessions’ assertion that a medical marijuana crackdown is needed to combat international criminal drug syndicates. There is further confusion around the letter due to President Trump’s signing statement. Trump in the past has signaled support for medical marijuana, telling Bill O’Reily unequivocally on his show, “…I do want to see what the medical effects are. I have to see what the medical effects are and, by the way — medical marijuana, medical? I’m in favor of it a hundred percent.” An ominous clue to why Sessions is defying research, the previous administration and President Trump’s previous statements may lie in another reversal of an Obama policy on private prisons.

In a February 21, 2017 memo the DOJ signals the end of a late Obama era policy that phased out the use of private prisons by the Department of Prisons. According to the memo, Obama’s policy impaired the DOJ from meeting its future incarceration needs. The memo hints at a need for more prison space, despite trends pointing to a decline in Federal prison populations. The two largest private prison corporations, Geo Group and CoreCivic, stocks soared after the Sessions February reversal. Both stocks have continued to rise in 2017, and both companies donated to candidate Trump’s run for the White House. Since the policy about-face, Sessions has signaled an increase in marijuana law enforcement, leading some to believe Sessions’ cryptic statement about future incarceration needs could point to more Federal marijuana arrests. Now with Sessions asking personally to go after medical marijuana states, those fears may be becoming reality. Despite the pressure from the DOJ, medical marijuana supporters are pushing back.

After Sessions’ letter, a group of bi-partisan Senators reintroduced a bill, first proposed in 2015, known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act or the CARERS Act. The CARERS Act is The first of its kind in the Senate, and now has 6 sponsors. Democratic Senators Cory Booker, Kirstin Gillibrand, Al Franken and Republican Senators Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski and Mike Lee have all signed on to the bill. The sweeping bill would allow states who have passed medical marijuana laws to continue their programs without Federal interference. In addition the act allows more colleges to conduct marijuana research on their campuses, license more Federal medical grade marijuana production facilities, clarify banking rules for marijuana businesses, and allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to Veterans. Exercising another check and balance in the US system, states have also looked to pass laws banning state agencies from working with Federal agents to interfere with their local marijuana laws. Unfortunately, experts admit, outside of court action, there is little states can do if Congress capitulates to Sessions’ demands and he decides to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.

About Lukas Barfield

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