Former Attorney General Says Sessions Has a Pot ‘Obsession’

Eric Holder Cannabis Now

The man who oversaw raids on more than 100 marijuana dispensaries stepped forward on Tuesday to criticize Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ draconian view of cannabis.


Despite prosecuting plenty of state-legal marijuana providers in his day, former attorney general Eric Holder called out current Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday for his “almost obsession with marijuana.”

Holder spent years mum on the issue of marijuana reform, despite being the top law enforcement official in the land — who was appointed by a president who made campaign trail promises of cannabis reform. It would take years to catch up to those promises and plenty of people ended up in handcuffs in the process.

The Washington Examiner first reported the former Attorney General made the comments while speaking at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Sessions’ almost obsession with marijuana I think is the thing that’s put the Justice Department in this strange place,” said Holder.

However, despite Sessions’ dreams of a full-scale crackdown on the marijuana world, he has yet to reach the levels of enforcement overseen by Holder between 2009 and 2013, when the now-famous Cole Memo dictated the Department of Justice wouldn’t interfere in recreational marijuana states.

Holder defended the state of DOJ marijuana policy when he left — the policies Jeff Sessions is currently working on getting to the chopping block as fast as possible.

“I think the policy we had in place was a good one: Let the states experiment with the notion that again we have these eight or nine federal factors and if you trigger one of these eight or nine factors the feds are going to be coming in,” Holder told the crowd, according to the Examiner.

Activists tend to get a kick out of Holder’s pot talk. Obviously, they’re thrilled to have a former Attorney General on the team, but it would have been pretty great if he took his new stance while still holding the reigns of law enforcement. Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell pointed to Holder’s previous flip-flop on marijuana scheduling as an example.

“While I appreciate that Holder endorsed rescheduling after leaving office, it’s more than a little annoying that he didn’t do anything about it while he had the power to change cannabis’s federal classification,” Angell told Cannabis Now.

“In that context, his comments about the current attorney general’s marijuana policies are pretty rich,” said Angell.

Also during the speech, Holder noted these advances on marijuana must have made the Department of Justice feel like a strange place. If that’s the case, Holder must have had it feeling like the Twilight Zone at the peak of his enforcement.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri says Holder presents an interesting case study in terms of how a US Attorney General grapples with the growing movement to legalize marijuana in our country, particularly compared to Jeff Sessions.

“It is true that the Department of Justice under Holder sought prosecutions against some state legal medical providers and as Attorney General he came out firmly in opposition to the Proposition 19,” said Altieri. “It is also true that during the legalization campaigns of 2012 and in the years that followed, Holder and his Deputy Attorney General James Cole publicly set a tone that implied the administration would take a firm hands-off approach to state marijuana laws, a strategy they codified in the now famous Cole Memo.”

Altieri believes despite these “very questionable legal actions” against certain operators, the broad message flowing from the DOJ at the time was that they would allow states to proceed with state medical and recreational marijuana programs. “The industry responded and entered its largest period of growth and investment and citizens responded with increased public support and more pressure on their lawmakers to reform laws,” said Altieri.

Altieri says it is completely fair to criticize the Obama administration and Eric Holder for not going far enough in ending federal marijuana prohibition, but he said that Sessions has done more damage. “So far, the direction set by Attorney General Sessions with his constant and aggressive attacks on marijuana and his attempts to roll back our progress by working to defeat amendments aimed at keeping state marijuana laws out of his reach represents a far graver and existential threat to reform,” he said.

Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project said it seemed like Holder’s earlier bad behavior was before the criminal justice evolution in the second term. “Now everyone has either legitimately learned the right lessons or can read the writing on the wall in terms of reelection or getting a solid job.”

TELL US, do you think the Department of Justice should intervene in the cannabis industry?

Jimi Devine has been involved in cannabis reform since 2005 and has worked in the Berkeley cannabis industry since 2009 when he moved to California from Lynn, Massachusetts. Currently serving as Staff Writer here at Cannabis Now, you can also find his writings on cannabis products and policy in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Hill, The Chronicle of High Education, GreenState.com, Marijuana.com, 7x7 Magazine, and in Ed Rosenthal's most recent book This Bud's for You. Jimi has a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Franklin Pierce University.

8 Comments

  1. Amos

    October 20, 2017 at 4:05 am

    I live in Texas and we have some of the strictest marijuana laws. I have had it a malignant brain tumor that cause me to have a very slight seizure. Of course they want to put me on a medication that causes a lot of side effects. I feel that marijuana could replace the medication that I have to take. I sure wish the state of Texas would take medical marijuana seriously!

  2. Dennis

    October 19, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    How many more studies do we have to do you didn’t do a study like this on alcohol and alcohol kills people so what’s the big problem marijuana does not kill people I have to smoke over 1,500 lb and 5 minutes so what’s the the government’s big problem legalize the weed that’s what the people want

  3. Chaz

    October 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Jeff sessions or whatever, you need a hobby! How about making it a hobby to research all the new documents by extremely respected people in the “medical marijuana world”, that way when your campaigning you will know when your talking out your ass, and not just the rest of the world. Thanks for alllllllll your help.

  4. Edward Cowan

    October 19, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Yes, like the pharmaceutical industry!

  5. Chaz

    October 19, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    I’m sure they no what’s right and wrong, and after a continued effort to live a half way decent life after being hit by a drunk at 4 pm, which alcohol is legal it has caused more harm than any substance in all ways. I dieing now because of the only medicine I have the option of taking, when access to medical marijuana could literally help me live a much better healthier life…or what’s left of it. So thanks for as of now killing me with your pharmaceutical buddies that pay y’alls way to ruin more lives.

  6. Miss King

    October 18, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    “Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project said it seemed like Holder’s earlier bad behavior was before the criminal justice evolution in the second term.” ..hmmm…what 2nd term? Obama’s? Saw from several sources that Obama set another World Record for busting pple for pot.

    Not sure Sessions is even doing anything about pot… Just is “reported” that he is intending to do a thing… Very strange.

  7. Dave

    October 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Sessions is running a protection racket for the highly connected corporations that fear the rise of cannabis.

    • Amos

      October 20, 2017 at 4:01 am

      Amen brother!

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