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Sessions Sworn in: Drug Warrior Now Runs the Justice Department

AG Jeff Sessions is doubling down on his anti-cannabis rhetoric, but also deferring to the Cole Memo, which gives states broad leeway when it comes to federal interference.
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Joint Opinions

Sessions Sworn in: Drug Warrior Now Runs the Justice Department

Jeff Sessions is now attorney general here’s what we can expect next.

Every political party and popular movement has its extremists. Usually, the hard-liners, wackos, and weirdos stay on the fringes. Not so with President Donald Trump. Under Trump, the David Duke wing of the Republican Party is now running the Department of Justice.

On Thursday, former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s international army, what crimes the FBI can prosecute, and a vast array of lawyers are now at the disposal of a man deemed too racist and too extreme to be a federal judge — and who is a celebrated hero of the alt-right and white nationalists, like former Ku Klux Klan leader and cheerful Holocaust denier David Duke.

The kind of people who think Dylann Roof — the convicted perpetrator of the Charleston church massacre — should be admired and was off-base only in this methods are now celebrating Jeff Sessions’s control of law and order in America.

This would be reason enough to be consumed by fear and anxiety, if Sessions weren’t also a death penalty-loving drug war hardliner — and if his boss, President Donald Trump, hadn’t just declared that drugs are responsible for a spike in crime in America while all but declaring an all-out return to the drug war. (Fact check: Violent crime is still near the bottom of a 30-year trend.)

“We’re going to stop those drugs from poisoning our youth, from poisoning our people,” Trump said on Wednesday to a gathering of sheriffs from across the country. “We’re going to be ruthless in that fight. We have no choice, and we’re going to take that fight to the drug cartels and work to liberate our communities from their terrible grip of violence.”

Trump also gave vocal support to police who want all fetters related to asset forfeiture proceedings lifted. Cops want to be able to seize property from Americans without a conviction, a power abused so badly that one police department literally wrote a shopping list of items it wanted to take from citizens — and Trump wants them to do it. Thus, all indications are that Sessions will be given free rein to usher in Trump’s promised era of “law and order.”

How will he do this? He may very well begin with the easiest targets: The country’s above-ground, licensed and taxpaying marijuana industry.

It’s no secret that Sessions loathes cannabis in every way. During a Senate hearing on drug policy last spring, Sessions openly pined for the Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” era, when the official government line was that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington deciding that marijuana is not the thing that ought to be legalized,” he added. “This drug is dangerous. You cannot play with it. It’s not funny.”

If he wasn’t referring to himself, he may as well have been. In his Senate confirmation hearings last month, Sessions declined to share his plans for enforcing federal marijuana law, but reserved his right to do so. His job, he said, is to enforce the law, and federal law says marijuana is illegal.

“It’s not so 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,” he said.

Interpret that as you may, as it’s your only choice until Sessions makes his first move: Both the attorney general and the White House declined to answer when asked by Reuters for the Justice Department’s new priorities on the country’s growing cannabis movement.

In the meantime, everybody is freaking out, or doing their best to act like they aren’t. Session’s mere nomination cast a chill on the heretofore unstoppable momentum legalization and cannabis commerce had enjoyed for more than four year. Planned business deals went south. Investment slowed. Fear set in.

“By the end of this week,” the Spokane, Washington-based Spokesman Review intoned on Thursday. “Washington’s multimillion-dollar recreational marijuana industry may be targeted for a federal crackdown.”

Realistically, Sessions can only do so much. He has finite resources. Every U.S. attorney set loose on legal weed means one less lawyer chasing illegal immigrants, terrorists, or other enemies of Donald Trump’s state of fear.

The truth is nobody knows. Maybe Sessions isn’t sure. He was coy during his Senate hearings, and he’s silent now. Meanwhile, the suspense is killing business, sending most of the $7-billion-a-year marijuana market into a state of limbo.

“Everyone’s back into wait-and-see mode,” said Sasha Kadey, chief marketing officer for accessory and vape device product line Greenlane, in comments to Reuters. “Because one doesn’t want to paint a target on one’s back.”

In a vacuum like this, the best hope for law-abiding pot producers may be bad hombres from somewhere else. Last month, U.S. Border Patrol seized 4,000 pounds of marijuana coming north hidden in ersatz key limes. With blatant wrongdoing like that afoot, unpopular crackdowns on state-legal marijuana will be a hard sell.

But this is Donald Trump, the thin-skinned, fact-challenged revenge artist. Remember that sudden blanket bans on immigrants were also hugely unpopular — in states like California and Washington. If Trump and Sessions want to stick it to blue states, marijuana may be the gateway.

TELL US, are you afraid of the wrath of Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

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