AG Sessions Escalates Drug War with New Sentencing Rules

Nostalgia for the 1980s and ’90s is hot right now, and that retro fever seems to have afflicted AG Jeff Sessions, whose new sentencing memo initiates a throwback to the draconian law enforcement policies of the Reagan years of the Drug War.


In a memo released to federal prosecutors, Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened the door for prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” in federal drug cases, including those against low-level offenders.

While the memo does not explicitly mention cannabis, it signals a sharp escalation of an enforcement-focused approach to federal drug enforcement that, while not unexpected, is still sweeping in its scope and severity.

From the memo:

“Prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency. This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

This abrupt policy change represents a drastic overhaul of Obama-era reforms, which sought to address the negative social impacts of prison overcrowding and scale back federal reliance on the profit-driven corrections system.

Unsurprisingly, former AG Eric Holder, who was instrumental in implementing the reforms of the Obama administration, has voiced strong criticism of the new Sessions memo, declaring it “dumb on crime.”

From Holder’s statement, emphasis added:

The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety… these reversals will be both substantively and financially ruinous, setting the Department back on track to again spending one-third of its budget on incarcerating people, rather than preventing, detecting, or investigating crime.”

And while he didn’t mention medical or recreational cannabis directly, in a speech shortly following the release of the memo, Sessions made a statement that has chilling implications for those involved in state-legal cannabis business.

“We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple,” Sessions said. “If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be willfully blind to your misconduct.”

Still, for the time being — at least until the end of the fiscal year —  the DOJ has severe limits on what it can do (regarding medical cannabis anyway) thanks to the temporary protections of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment.

Justin Strekal, Political Director for NORML, said the organization is still having an internal conversation about the full scope of the immediate impacts of the memo on state-legal cannabis, but stressed that while the memo may not call out cannabis by name, AG Sessions is always talking about marijuana when he talks about drugs.

“Jeff sessions made it clear he does not see any difference between marijuana and heroin. So when he talks about the war on drugs he always means marijuana,” Strekal said. “At the end of the day this [memo] is just another step in the sequence of steps that the AG has further taken to position himself in the ’80s-style rhetoric of ‘Just Say No’ and the ’70s-style rhetoric of ‘The War On Drugs.'”

Strekal also said that, while NORML acknowledges the shortcomings of the Obama administration in the realm of decriminalization, the reforms that were put in place during his presidency  — chief among them the contents of the Cole Memo — have been key to the success and security of state-legal weed.

“While we very much appreciated all the thing the Obama administration did not do for marijuana reform, one of the things that was so crucial about the DOJ was their relaxing enforcement of federal prohibition,” he said. “We’re going to continue to be vigilantly looking out for any changes to the Cole Memo and… we don’t know what he wants to do — with the full force of the DOJ — with marijuana, but we do know his militant prohibitionist history.”

TELL US, where do you stand on the Sessions Memo?

Greg Zeman is the Associate Editor of Cannabis Now Magazine. His previous editorial credits include Staff Writer at a national political news site (Politix), Editor-In-Chief of a bilingual San Francisco newspaper (El Tecolote) and Founding Editor of an investigative journalism non-profit (Bay News Movement). His writing has been featured in SF Weekly, SF Evergreen, 3200 Stories, Offbeat and elsewhere. He wakes up at 4:19 but doesn't leave the house until eleven past seven.

3 Comments

  1. Lucy

    May 16, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Dear Mr. Attorney General, If you want to stop drugs, that’s ok, but marijuana is not a drug. It is a medicine plant . If you would read the studies on it , you would see how it can cure a lot of ailments. The drugs that need to be stopped are heroin, and the opioids that are killing people every day. What is more important than human life. People everywhere are getting addicted to opioids that are made by some lab in some pharmaceutical company. It is a synthetic which needs to be taken off the market. We are all Gods children and have a right to live a happy and healthy life. So please don’t reject a harmless plant that God has provided for medical uses. And we need to focus on the real killers like heroin and those so called pain killers.

  2. Tim ONeal

    May 16, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    If two sides disagree, is it not better to find middle ground? Does Sessions still ignore popular concensus, not only among voters, but also a broad range of medical researchers? Has he yet met the burden of proof required of his position? Does he not realize the transgression he is committing against the Constitution in terms of individual and state rights?

  3. JOBE suloff

    May 16, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Sessions is behind in the Times, very naive towards God’s creation. Especially medical cannabis proven to cure cancer and help a number of sickness, and chronic pain…He refuses to believe facts…Fire Sessions Trump!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *