Jeff Sessions – The End of Cannabis Reform?
After a long and heated debate, the US Senate voted to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) to be our next attorney general. As our nation’s highest law enforcement officer, Sessions will be in charge of determining federal enforcement priorities, meaning he will at some point have to grapple with state versus federal medical and recreational marijuana policies. This possibility has put the industry on edge, considering Sessions’ past harsh and disapproving position on progressive marijuana policy.
At a Senate Drug Caucus hearing last April, Sessions was highly critical of the current level of federal involvement, saying, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say that marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.” He has also been quoted saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and referencing the Ku Klux Klan being less offensive than marijuana use. Needless to say, it is unlikely that Sessions has changed his stance on marijuana use since receiving his new title.
There are several courses of action Sessions could take to interfere with the progress of marijuana policy reform. First, he could rescind the 2013 Cole memorandum, which shifts federal law enforcement away from states with medical and recreational marijuana laws, entrusting that they are enforcing the appropriate legal action within their state’s legislature.
Sessions also could interfere with the new legislature that was approved in the presidential election this past fall. Eight states voted for either medical or recreational marijuana laws, and if Sessions did move to continue prohibition, he could work to shut down these laws before they are put into action. This would be a much easier alternative than utilizing federal manpower to shut down active cultivation and dispensary locations. In his confirmation hearing, Session acknowledged the limits of enforcement resources and will hopefully put cannabis lower on his list of priorities. Needless to say, industry officials are taking pause to see how Sessions acts in his debut as the AG. With big problems like immigration and the opioid crisis on the table, cannabis may stay off Sessions’ radar for some time, giving the industry more time to continue growing and expanding. As for those in the cannabis industry already, the time is now to brush up on your local rules and regulations, remain in compliance and demonstrate that cannabis reform does work!