Jeff Sessions: Should the Cannabis Industry Be Worried?
Even though President Donald Trump has said he will leave marijuana legalization up to individual states, cannabis industry insiders took note when Jeff Sessions was appointed as US Attorney General. Just when it seemed the business of marijuana was poised for growth, new concerns stemming from the Department of Justice have arisen. Cory Hughes takes a look at how the new administration may affect the future of cannabis in the US.
Cannabis consumers and producers expressed some concern when Jeff Sessions, an anti-cannabis politician, was tapped to be the next Attorney General of the United States last February. Sessions has made no secret his disdain for marijuana and his perception of those who choose to consume it.
With President Donald Trump making statements about ramping up the war on drugs to combat the problem of crime, many marijuana users and producers were left wondering if that war would end up on their doorstep. Many marijuana consumers and business owners are uncertain of what is to come, but is their fear warranted?
If you are not familiar with Jeff Sessions, he is a former senator from the conservative state of Alabama who now holds the fate of the American justice system in his hands. Sessions has always been a controversial figure.
He has been in staunch opposition to voting rights, he has voted against the rights of women, has come out against the LGBT movement, and has stated “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” In an age of progressive ideas, the election of Donald Trump and his appointment of Jeff Sessions to the highest law enforcement position in the land seem to be out of sync with the general direction modern Western society has been heading.
A hint of what can be expected came on Feb. 23 at a White House press briefing when press secretary Sean Spicer said, “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of (recreational marijuana). Because, again, there’s a big difference between the medical use, which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was in terms of how the Department of Justice would handle that issue. That’s very different than the recreational use, which is something that I think the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”
As far as cannabis goes, Sessions has made it clear what he believes. Based upon the statements he had made up until the time he was confirmed as Attorney General, cannabis consumers have every right to be concerned. There has been much speculation and back and forth as to what will actually happen, though Spicer’s Feb. 23 comments now provide some insight as to what can be expected. Despite this, there are a few things that have happened recently that may give cannabis consumers and business owners a bit of hope that everything will be OK.
For a time, we have looked to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a weather vane to see where the winds of change are blowing with respect to cannabis. The previous administration did little to advocate for cannabis businesses in legal states, nor did it stop its assault on many grows and dispensaries until Congress stepped in and halted federal action against operations that were abiding by state law. With cannabis, you never really know who your ally is, however, the DEA has proven that it is willing to present alternative facts to keep the war on drugs alive.
The DEA has been able to exist as long as it has through prohibition and the jailing of criminals involved in the trafficking of prohibited substances. Fundamentally, if it doesn’t bust people for drugs, it doesn’t get paid. The reality is that cannabis has never posed a threat to society—the Shafer Commission from the early 1970s confirmed this—yet the DEA has waged war against cannabis, passing up numerous opportunities to set the record straight and remove it from drug scheduling entirely. Instead, it chose to double down and continue to spread propaganda against cannabis in hopes of keeping its lights on.
Can the DEA continue to go after cannabis companies despite Congress’s intervention and the supportive voice of the people? Absolutely. The biggest thing the cannabis community has to fear is that Sessions will ignore the issue of cannabis to the public while giving the DEA the green light to enforce federal law.
During his confirmation hearings, Sessions was directly asked about cannabis, but he deflected the question. He chose instead to say that he would just have to use “good judgment” when it came to marijuana law. His past statements alone were enough to have even the most casual of marijuana consumer concerned. The outlook, however, may not be as bleak as it appears.
There have been a few signs that legal—recreational or medicinal— marijuana will not go down as a failed experiment and shut down by Trump’s administration. The vast amount of money that has been generated by legal cannabis has gone on to create tens of thousands of jobs, has put schoolbooks in the hands of children, and has put rooves over the heads of those less fortunate through state funding. There is no denying that legal cannabis has had a positive impact on the communities that embraced it. Also, the sky hasn’t fallen in legalized communities.
The first possibility that cannabis is safe under Sessions is the creation of a counsel of prosecutors from cannabis legal states to advise the president on marijuana. District Attorneys and other lawyers from places like Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have been selected to offer their experience and advice to help inform President Trump on the current state of cannabis.
The biggest indicator so far that marijuana may be safe for now comes from various reports in mid-February stating the overwhelming amount of issues the new administration faces, so cannabis may not be too high on the list. The reports come from a meeting between Sessions and Sacramento, California, Sheriff Scott Jones. Jones asked Sessions about what he intended to do with legal cannabis and Sessions’s response didn’t do much to warrant an immediate threat.
According to Jones in a press report, “Regarding the prioritization of federal resources to combat marijuana, (Sessions) didn’t see the federal government getting involved in marijuana use or low-level state, what are traditionally state and local crimes, but, I don’t think he ruled out the possibility of the federal government getting involved in larger-scale operations.”
With Spicer’s comments at the Feb. 23 press briefing, however, it appears recreational cannabis and large-scale commercial grow operations may be higher on Session’s to-do list than originally anticipated. With the unpredictable nature of Trump and his administration so far, only time will tell if Sessions will turn out to be the staunch prohibitionist many suspect him to be.