After the November election, 28 states have now legalized marijuana in one way or another. Public opinion has never been stronger in favor of legalization—and this even includes a vast majority of police, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. (More on this in a bit.)
Unfortunately, presumptive Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not agree—and that could pose a serious problem for weed.
Of course, we know Sessions’ views on racial matters have been troubling, at best, over the years. A black assistant U.S. attorney named Thomas Figures once testified that, in addition to calling him “boy” on several occasions, Sessions thought Ku Klux Klan members were “OK, until (he learned) that they smoked marijuana.”
Let that sink in: The probable head of the Department of Justice once said the only problem he has with the KKK is that they smoke weed.
While it’s debatable whether Sessions’ views on race issues have improved over the years, it seems clear that Sessions remains firmly in the anti-marijuana camp.
“I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state and the distribution of it an illegal act,” Sessions said during his confirmation hearings. “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”
Seems like a pretty innocuous answer at first … but just what does “enforce laws effectively as we are able” mean? Many are taking this as an indication that he will enforce the federal ban until federal laws say otherwise.
This means the good done by the Cole memo may be in jeopardy. The Cole memo, the key Obama-era concession to state-legalization laws, was authored by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole and issued by the DOJ on Aug. 29, 2013. It set different priorities for federal prosecutors that dictated a hands-off policy on prosecuting federal cannabis laws where local jurisdictions had legalized and regulated the plant. This effectively ended federal raids and interference in state-legal businesses.
In a quixotic quest to enforce an antiquated and wildly unpopular federal ban, and prop up a beloved-but-lost War on Drugs, Attorney General Sessions would have the power—and apparently the will—to reverse the Cole memo. Federal raids could resume, hamstringing a burgeoning industry. This is serious: Small businessmen could be jailed, with jobs lost and millions of dollars taken from municipal and state coffers. Large-scale grows like those approved in Desert Hot Springs, Coachella and soon Palm Springs would be prime targets. Cannabis businesses would again be subject to asset forfeiture (where authorities can seize property tied to a crime). The Drug Enforcement Administration’s insistence on keeping cannabis in the Schedule 1 club (making funds non-FDIC-insurable) has made investors nervous already. Under threat of asset forfeiture, big investors will quickly head north into Canada’s cannabis-loving arms. Cash-strapped cities like Desert Hot Springs would be left wondering what the hell happened.
OK, SO WE’RE A LITTLE CONFLICTED…
Meanwhile, the opinion of law enforcement at-large is now heavily in favor of legalization.
The day after Congress began the process to confirm Jeff “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” Sessions to the position of Top Cop in the U.S. (and yes, he said exactly that last April), the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll indicating that the majority of American police officers are in favor of some form of legalization.
The survey of 7,917 officers from 54 police and sheriff’s departments, conducted from May 19 through Aug. 14, 2016, shows the opinion of Jeff Sessions is completely out of touch with that of the cop on the street.
The really astounding number is that 68 percent of police officers are in favor of legalization for at least medicinal use: 37 percent of officers polled support legalization for medicinal use only, while 32 percent are in favor of both recreational and medicinal legalization. While this isn’t quite as favorable toward cannabis as overall public opinion (49 percent for recreational and medicinal, and 32 percent for medicinal only), it’s a huge shift in a positive direction. Only 30 percent of police officers believe the plant should remain illegal, but that’s double the 15 percent of the general public. As with the public, support for legalization is stronger among younger officers.
This support for weed hasn’t stopped police from enforcing marijuana laws: In 2015, police made more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.
If Sen. Jeff Sessions is indeed confirmed as attorney general of the United States, he could create a disaster that cripples the growth of an industry expected to triple in the next few years, with the new addition of California and other states to the legal market. He is a just-say-no-era anachronism who is completely out of touch with 21st century America.
All we can do at this point is hope Trump is a single-term president, and that four years isn’t enough time to do too much damage to a legalization movement that is finally finding real success and acceptance after so many decades of marginalization.
Tell the Senate to reject Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Find an online petition here.