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Trump Picks Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Stoking Fears of Cannabis Crackdown

November 18, 2016
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., speaks during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
With President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for US attorney general, Americans are finally getting a clearer picture of what the federal government’s approach to cannabis might look like under his administration. Ending days of heated speculation, Trump on Tuesday morning officially nominated Sessions for the role, sparking worries among legalization advocates and cannabis industry leaders.

Sessions, who served as a US attorney in Alabama during the Reagan administration, was a big fan of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, and has lamented the spread of legalization to states around the nation. Ahead of this year’s election, as nine states prepared to vote on cannabis legalization measures, he said at a Senate hearing that “I can’t tell you how concerning it is for me, emotionally and personally, to see the possibility that we will reverse the progress that we’ve made.”

At that same April 5 hearing, Sessions opined that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

“It was the prevention movement that really was so positive,” he said, “and it led to this decline. The creating of knowledge that this drug is dangerous, it cannot be played with, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

“Jeff Sessions is a drug war dinosaur, which is the last thing the nation needs now.”
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director, Drug Policy Alliance

As the nation’s top law enforcement official, the attorney general has a great deal of power over the handling of federal cannabis laws. Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, who have held the position during the Obama administration, crafted and then upheld the Cole memo. That document established a policy of permitting states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to carry out regulated adult-use legalization so long as they stayed within certain parameters. The Cole memo is just that, though—a memo establishing policy. It is not a law, and it could be reversed by the next attorney general as early as January.

Washington insiders see the appointment of Sessions as an indication of Trump’s intention to tighten immigration policies and deport people who entered the country illegally, but many in the cannabis community also fear he could also pose an existential threat to state-legal cannabis programs, both medical and adult-use.

“Jeff Sessions is a drug war dinosaur, which is the last thing the nation needs now.” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Those who counted on Donald Trump’s reassurance that marijuana reforms ‘should be a state issue’ will be sorely disappointed. And not just Democrats but the many Republicans as well who favor rolling back the war on drugs had better resist this nomination.”

Related

U.S. Attorney General Says Cannabis Is Not a Gateway Drug

Current AG Loretta Lynch, while not a legalization proponent, made waves in September by acknowledging, finally, that cannabis is not a gateway drug. Sessions, on the other hand, retains full faith in 1980s-style anti-drug campaigns, Reason editor Jacob Sullum noted.

“This is not the first time that Sessions, who served as a U.S. attorney during the Reagan administration, has pined for the days of Just Say No,” Sullum wrote. “But crediting Nancy Reagan for a decline in drug use that began before she latched onto her pet cause is scientifically problematic, and so are the messages Sessions wants the youth of America to hear—especially the idea that ‘good people don’t smoke marijuana,’ which condemns at least two-fifths of the population (and probably more like half, allowing for underreporting by survey respondents).”

Last week’s elections made clear a number of things about the nation. Among them, it showed that cannabis legalization—especially around medical marijuana—is no longer a partisan issue. In regions around the country, a strong turnout by Trump voters actually helped push legalization measures past the finish line. If Sessions uses the DOJ as a hammer to crush state cannabis programs, he’ll be at odds with one of the few mandates to come out of the Nov. 8 election—as well as the cannabis-friendly conservative voters who helped put Trump in office.

Related

Data Dive: Legalization No Longer a Partisan Issue, Election Data Show

Some of Republican elected officials have already expressed opposition to Sessions’ stance on cannabis. Alabama state Rep. Allen Peake, a vocal proponent of medical cannabis in that state, told Leafly he was “surprised” by the nomination, which he said “gives me great concern because of his apparent negative stance toward medical marijuana.”

“Hopefully that issue will be brought up during the nominating process,” Peake continued, “and we can hold President Trump to his word that he is in support of medical marijuana.”

Tom Davis, a Republican state senator in South Carolina, took to Twitter to speak out against Sessions’ stance on medical marijuana:

“A huge majority of voters share Trump’s support for legal access to medical marijuana, and a steadily growing majority believes marijuana should be legal for adults,” the Marijuana Policy Project’s Mason Tvert told Leafly. “We would expect appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president to stick to the president’s position on this subject. It would certainly be controversial if Sen. Sessions completely defied the president who appointed him.”

A full 70% of GOP voters told pollsters state laws should be respected, higher than either Democrats (55%) or independents (56%).

Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority, noted that legal cannabis has stronger backing than most elected officials. “The truth is, marijuana reform is much more popular with voters than most politicians are, and officials in the new administration would do well to take a careful look at the polling data on this issue before deciding what to do,” he said. “During the campaign the president-elect clearly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and he should keep his word—both because it’s the right thing to do and because a reversal would be a huge political misstep.

While Angell acknowledged Trump’s choice “certainly isn’t good news for marijuana reform,” he said he’s hopeful Trump will recognize that going after cannabis will be a waste of political capital.

In April of this year, a CBS News poll asked Americans whether the federal government should respect state cannabis laws. Overall, 59 percent said yes—but no group was more emphatic than Republicans in their support. A full 70 percent of GOP voters said state laws should be respected, higher than either Democrats (55 percent) or independents (56 percent).

Even within the White House, attitudes toward cannabis have been steadily changing. President Bill Clinton famously told reporters that while he’d smoked a joint before, he “didn’t inhale.” Barack Obama upped the ante as he prepared to run for president, telling journalists in 2006 that he did inhale: “That was the point.” In early 2014, President Obama told a New Yorker writer, “I smoked pot as a kid,” and as an adult “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

That elicited these comments from Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing:

“I have to tell you, I’m heartbroken to see what the president said just a few days ago. It’s stunning to me. I find it beyond comprehension. … This is just difficult for me to conceive how the president of the United States could make such a statement as that. … Did the president conduct any medical or scientific survey before he waltzed into the New Yorker and opined contrary to the positions of attorneys general and presidents universally prior to that?”

Sessions followed with this observation: “Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it is not harmless.”

Sessions will have to be confirmed by a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the full Senate, after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The Alabama senator currently sits as a member of the Judiciary Committee.

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  • lovingc

    This dinosaur needs to go back to the stone age where he belongs. His statement that cannabis is dangerous is totally idiotic. He also has no prof.

    • A lack of cannabis is far more “dangerous”,
      considering the crucial role of the ECS, (endocannabinoid system):
      ]:-)>

      Every diehard “drug warrior” / drug war profiteer / drug war advocate,
      (this includes Trump’s AG pick Jeff Sessions),
      needs to be compulsorily-administrated extra high doses of
      Rimonabant / Acomplia, Naloxone, (and the like),
      to block / remove every trace of INTERNALLY-PRODUCED “drugs”,
      (endocannabinoids, endorphins), and “feel good” neurotransmitters,
      (norepinephrine, tryptamines, [i.e, serotonin, melatonin, dimethyltryptamine],
      dopamine, gamma-amino-butyric acid, [GABA], et al), from their bodies,
      so that they can “truly” be “drug free”
      [and SUFFER the side-effects of endocannabinoid, endorphin deficiencies…
      which includes PAIN, loss-of-appetite and suicidal ideation… and KILL THEMSELVES OFF!!!]

  • Adude

    “good people don’t smoke marijuana”

    Former soccer player, dislocated my shoulder 6 times during my career as a goalkeeper. Made it to the semi-professional level, now smoke cannabis to quell shoulder pain. Now I coach, and am advancing my coaching career. Have a 3.2 in college and the transfer requirement for my finance degree is a 2.7. Work a almost full time job. I’m also at a healthy weight and run a cycling club at my school campus.

    I guess I’m a bad person because I smoke cannabis.

    R.I.P.

  • Open Minds

    We can rant & rave all we want about Republicans but the reality is that Obama is just as much to blame. When Leonhart retired, Obama could have whispered in Loretta Lynch’s ear to appoint a more open minded person than Rosenberg (who went on to say that cannabis had no medical value and was as dangerous as heroin), who would have descheduled cannabis. Instead of being a quarterback on this issue, Obama punted. Forget the Cole Memo bullshit, that’s just politicians catering to both sides by telling pro-cannabis voters:”we’re for cannabis”; and telling anti-cannabis voters:”we didn’t legalize cannabis”.
    Typical politicians, wanting to have it both ways. A pox on both their houses…

    • Jesse Pavey

      Obama was a great president end of story.

      • cire

        actually no. most transparent presidency so far, not even close, greatly expanded Bush’s wars. Assassin in cheif, etc. Obama sucks. Trump even more so.

      • Obama was a failure. Much like your parents.

    • rdrake

      Maybe the Supreme Court should strike down the marijuana laws like they did in Canada (and I believe, Mexico) if you want any chance of defeating the feds on this.

  • Delicious Points

    This is disastrous news. After all the hard work everyone has done to bring Cannabis this far and now we’re going to be faced with another bombshell to make it illegal again… this is just devestating. It’s like we’ll revert back to the 30’s to 80’s again and re-live this nightmare for God knows how many more decades? =(

  • Mike

    Well I sure hope all the idiots who sat out the election or voted 3rd party are happy. You are about to discover just how much difference there is between Democrats and Republicans. Although judging by comments below, it is obvious that many of you are too arrogant to admit making a mistake and too immature to accept responsibility for your actions.

    • rdrake

      People need to abandon the two party scam and vote for the other parties then maybe they’d be some real changes.

      • And… get rid of the state-based, “winner-takes-all” aspect of the Electoral “Collage”,
        (and replace it w/ proportional representation of ALL of the candidates whom the voters of each state have chosen).

  • Habitat Forever

    We definitely don’t want to go backwards on legalization. One of the overlooked victims of the war on drugs has been the environment. Black market cultivation has grown exponentially for years in Humboldt CA, damaging vital habitat. Habitat Forever is a pro-legalization group formed to move the industry out of habitat. Watch our short video, Humboldt is Habitat to learn more. https://youtu.be/7p93FFPE7_8

  • Stel-1776

    “Donald Trump has picked Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General. It really couldn’t get any worse. Jeff Sessions is a drug war extremist that will bring back raids on marijuana businesses and militarized, Reagan-era drug war tactics. Send a message to your Senators telling them to oppose Jeff Sessions for Attorney General..

    Take Action Now!
    https://engage.drugpolicy.org/secure/stop-jeff-sessions

    • JesMan

      Too bad the AG has to follow the exec orders and what the Prez says, not the other way around, If sessions tries to do what he wants he will be fired like everyone else. LOL scared little ppl

      • Stel-1776

        Except Trump is a bit of a tool and may very well be strongly influenced by Sessions.

        • JesMan

          Except u got it backwards and Trump is not influenced by anyone, think if u listened to him u would know that

      • Jesse Pavey

        You’re not very smart are you Trump supporter.

        • familyguy

          Trump main supporters were people that did not have college degrees, I think that sums it up. He maybe has a GED and that is stretching it!

          • JesMan

            yes becuz going with made up facts from CNn proves you are smarter than trump supportters? I bet u think your richer than many of them too LOL

          • You book smart types floor me with your bogus degrees in the liberal arts. How come so many of you suckers flip burgers after all that useless schoolin’? I’ll tell you how come. NOBAMA…

        • JesMan

          Your not very logical in your choice of who is smart are u Hillary supporter

      • familyguy

        Are you sure he not going to back out and say it was locker room banter, which apparently he does a lot of!

    • Done, and DONE!
      [sent the DPA form letter to my U.S. reps],
      even though my U.S. senators will either respond w/ quotes from
      Schedule One of the Federal CSA, “line-and-verse”
      and/or just email me their monthly newsletters,
      no mention of cannabis law reform, whatsoever.

  • Don

    Big surprise TRUMP is full of BS when he said #draintheswamp.

    Session has been in congress 20 yrs, he IS the swamp!

    • SortOfNotUnDeplorable

      He sure is.
      The man knows nothing.
      Nothing.

      Additionally, the new president DID say that a lot of things are going to be left up to the states to decide.
      Let’s watch.

    • familyguy

      that was locker room banter again!

  • spookykat1

    Sessions was supportive of the KKK until he discovered that they smoked pot… That should tell you everything you need to know.

    • Jesse Pavey

      Damn thats messed up.

    • kevin_hunt

      ..makes me think that Sessions is even WORSE than the KKK

      • Donkey Hotay ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Hey Kevin!

        You got your Hempire cashed out yet?

        How’s that “regulation” working out for you?

        LOL!

        • SortOfNotUnDeplorable

          I’m sorry.
          Please enlighten me: What’s funny?

      • Donkey Hotay ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ
  • Jesse Pavey

    I knew this would happen.
    Be ashamed Trump voters.
    Be very ashamed.

    • rdrake

      Still beats getting into a war with Russia which would have happened under Clinton.

      • familyguy

        I rather be at war with the f88king communist!

      • Citizen J

        you believed that?

  • HS61AF91

    There is no way that the attitude of the public toward a law is not going to be recognized, and the law modified to reflect that attitude. The US AG is in a position to enforce laws, and when the law states cannabis is legal, that that. Period. What’s all this hemming and hawing about? The Congress makes federal laws, and listens to the voice of their constituents. The states exercise their rightful prerogatives. Everybody gets in line. Cannabis is here to stay and the Pharmaceutical industry will reduce profits, anyway you look at it. The senator, soon to be AG, will rein in the Federal overreach, not enhance it!

  • Geoff Jacobs

    He’s got a LOT of baggage, I seriously doubt that he will be appointed.
    If any of you have Twitter accounts, you need to be tweeting to Trump, begging him NOT to appoint this ass!

  • Jeffersonman

    I think it may be the right time in history for a new “State’s Rights” movement. There is a very long history now with the Fed Gov undermining our citizen’s rights to equal gov representation. Instead they have turned away from their constituents and pledged their loyalties to the corruption of special interest money. I think given this history the bigger threat to those trying to gain a foothold in this growing industry is the fed’s granting corporation’s monopolization, and control of the cannabis industry. We need the support ofour state govs to tell the feds,” Don’t Tread on Me.”
    Fed resources are spread very thin when you consider all the other fiscal responsibilities on their plate. Trump has already said he was in favor of state’s rights for a number of issues. If Trump is a real business man he recognizes that this industry is going to raise lots of new tax revenues for the government.
    From what I see so far, there are more problems with local city governments placing arbitrary, and unfair regulations on cannabis than with fed intervention. The states need to step in with standards that protect citizen’s new rights to grow and sell cannabis.

  • gary west

    Why is he filling all his cabnit positions with the same crooks that got us in this mess get peoplethat haven’t been in there for there hole life. He draining the swamp by hireing all the crooks to work for him thats not what we wanted

    • Uri

      Welp. Did you vote for him?

  • Uri

    I still don’t get how you idiots don’t go against this trash ass government we have.. for fuck sakes they obviously aren’t for us.

    Sucks to be an American.

  • Yeliab

    “Alabama” state Rep. Allen Peake is actually from Georgia where he serves as a Georgia state representative. I know this because of an earlier Leafly interview with him. You are more credible if you proof read not only for spelling and grammar but for facts as well. I am from Alabama so I can say that Jeff Sessions is spawn of Satan.

  • H_Nicole_Young

    Trump and Sessions don’t make the marijuana laws, they only enforce them. Asking Sessions to “not enforce the marijuana laws” is unconstitutional. May as well elect Adolf Hitler if that is what you want — leaders in the executive branch who selectively follow whatever rules they want. The focus for marijuana legalization should be on elected officials in Congress, not on cabinet members in the executive branch. I believe Trump appointed Sessions for this very reason — to kill the national ban on marijuana by forcing the issue in Congress, where it belongs. Trump uses the same tactic with immigration laws. It’s a sort of like Trump’s “national civic lesson on how the American government was meant to work.” Instead of misdirecting your energies and focus on Trump and Sessions, make a list of Congresspeople who oppose legalization of marijuana and campaign against this rapidly shrinking list every two years (or better yet expose these corrupted politicians for all the millions of dollars in covert tobacco support they are getting for their re-election campaigns). Do this and we will have full national marijuana legalization within the next two election cycles (i.e., within the next four years). Good luck and godspeed…

    • Mr.&Mrs.F

      I did not read your post until an hour after posting mine above; I think we are on the same wide body jet that is filled to maximum capacity; so ; “Hi.”

  • rdrake

    Take a look at the guy. Some potheads must have shoved his head in the toilet when he was in high school and this is his revenge.

  • Mr.&Mrs.F

    Sessions is an insider; BAD MOVE Mr. Trump; he is even using the clinton hand gesture with the thumb up bouncing red ball ‘follow my bouncing hand swamp mentality brainwashing lead!!!’ act. Just do a Hitler salute Sessions; but trump is not a Hitler; he is more like a rich little boy with the capacity to do huge business deals. I think he could be overly aggressive in self-defnse; but over aggressive in self defense is superior to less aggressive offensive. (If you are going to challenge something; be ready to be overly aggressive). We as a nation are still in trouble; still divided; both sides calling each other the virus. Proud vanity is a HUGE problem. NO human is ‘qualified’ to JUDGE or DEFINE ‘which PLANT’ or PILL, alcohol, or sugar POISON Humanity can ingest for what purpose or alleged purposes. For a HUMAN to say “THAT plant is evil!!!” is to also say “I’m a stupid idiot politician, please shoot me in the head before I spread any more of my stupidity. Remember, ME and MY gang have gun backed legalized IMMUNITY!!!!!!!”

  • Mr.&Mrs.F

    Something far more intelligent than any team of democrats or republicans invented the Human body; and all things that go well with a human body. The hemp family of plants fits the HUMAN USE profile, like a few other things that fit so “nicely;” like amino acids, and protein. Any human who THINKS “they” have a “god given gun backed right” to regulate A FREELY PROVIDED PLANT for the GROTESQUE profits of a few people who already have more money than anyone REALLY needs; is a stupid criminal who needs to go to prison without delay.

  • Ivan Jackson

    lol. Trumps son is involved in weedseeker.net they aren’t cracking down on anything.

    • Mike

      You have evidence of this? I couldn’t find any using Google.

  • familyguy

    Well it remains to be seen if Trump is a man of his word. He said during the campaign that legalization would be left up to individual states this was last said in Nevada. Lets see how true he is to his word or if this was again locker room banter. It sounds like banter when he appointed Sessions.

  • Vicky Bounds

    I’m disgusted for the first time with trump with my own good damn reason Sessions needs to update his dinosaur ass!!!! Reagan was wrong!!!!!

  • Para Salin said: All aboard for the Crazy Train! Next stop: Constitutional Crisis! Donald’ll be tried for treason within six weeks. Agnew, I mean Pence, will go down shortly after that for ethics violations.

    My reply: Pure bullshit Para Salin wimp, who is scared to use his or her real name, huh sucker? Although I’ve been puffin’ since ’71 there are more important things on @POTUS’ plate right now than tackling the pot issue. This is not to say he gets a complete pass from me, just not a Number One priority at this moment in space & time. I’m a proud Trump supporter who happens to smoke a little reef when I can locate some. Here in Florida I helped pass Amendment 2 which legalized medicinal marijuana. It’ll be so refreshing to walk into a retail outlet in approx 6 to 9 months from these January 20th, 2017 words of mine. I should have my ‘magic card’ in tow by that time. I qualify due to my ‘severe mood disorder’ that causes me to not have very much patience with wimps such as a Para Salin. Bottom line is God bless our 45th “real” Commander-In-Chief for a nice change of pace. We’ve put up with an imposter in that role for the past 8 long awful years. I and millions & millions upon others are so pleased that this date on the calendar has actually finally arrived…