Sessions Ups Anti-Pot Talk, But Mixed Message on Crackdown

AG Jeff Sessions makes the new a lot these days, and when it isn't for hobnobbing with Russian diplomats and lying about it under oath, it's for spouting wild prohibitionist rhetoric about cannabis.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubled down on his anti-cannabis rhetoric in a speech to law enforcement, but also sent a mixed message on federal enforcement, citing the Cole Memo as an obstacle.


With a crowd of nearly all law enforcement officials from local state and federal agencies in attendance, Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again vented his disdain for the national progress around cannabis policy and the growing clinical curiosity about its efficacy as treatment for opioid addiction. But he then told reporters he can’t continue the work of local law enforcement around cannabis in legal states due to the Cole Memo.

Sessions gave the expected kudos to the Richmond crowd before diving into violent crime in America today — the actual theme of the speaking engagement — pointing to a recent jump in the violent crime rate.

“My fear is that this surge in violent crime is not a ‘blip,’ but the start of a dangerous new trend,” he said. “I worry that we risk losing the hard-won gains that have made America a safer and more prosperous place.”

Sessions offered three main ways to “fight the scourge of drugs” as well as criminal enforcement, treatment and prevention. With step one in Sessions eyes being the continued decades long effort to end the cartels, it was on to treatment.

Using an intro reminiscent of the long disproven “gateway theory,” on treatment Sessions told the crowd of law enforcement:

“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” he said. “And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

For the second time in as many months, Sessions called into question the the use of cannabis as an opiate treatment — despite 130 years of research. Equally misleading is his framing of the issue for the nation’s law enforcement during a time where opiate overdose epidemics are all too real for many American communities.

After the speech during a Q&A, Sessions noted that, due to the Cole Memo, he would not be able to fully enforce federal law.

“Essentially we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades,” he said.

Then, not long after he’d called marijuana “slightly less awful” than heroin in his opening remarks, Sessions gave credence to the fact THC can be medicine, but fell back on the old tag line that “a joint can’t be medicine,” albeit with classier lingo.

Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell said even that lukewarm distinction is valuable when it comes to the issue of rescheduling.

“It’s encouraging to hear the attorney general say that the earlier Justice Department memo on marijuana is ‘valid.’ While I remain curious about what ‘different ideas’ he may have, this is a signal that the administration just might keep President Trump’s pledges to respect state marijuana laws,” Angell said. “While his comments on marijuana vis-à-vis heroin are a serious understatement, it’s nice to hear the Justice Department finally acknowledge that there’s a difference in harms. They should follow up by moving marijuana out of Schedule I, which is supposed to be reserved only for substances with a high potential for abuse and no medical value.”

Others, like NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, were quick to fire back at Session’s claims of marijuana on every street corner ruining Americans lives.

“With over 600,000 arrests a year, the only thing life-wrecking about marijuana is its prohibition,” Altieri said.

Others were once again frustrated with Sessions’ mockery of cannabis use in opiate treatments. Just a day before Sessions’ last chat on the subject, his ideological compatriot, Kevin Sabet, was debunked on the very same issue by longtime researcher Dr. Amanda Reiman.

In a statement to Cannabis Now on today’s comments, she noted the complicity of the booming pharmaceutical industry, which she says makes millions of dollars at the expense of millions of people.

“To hear the nation’s Attorney General blatantly lie about cannabis and its relationship to opiates is more than infuriating. He’s right, too many lives ARE at stake to worry about being fashionable. He needs to deliver that sentiment to the drug companies that are pushing unreal amounts of opiates into already vulnerable, poor white communities,” Reiman said. “The numerous ads for opiate-based medications and the profit driven drug companies have worked hard to made opiate dependence fashionable. Sessions’ misguided blame will kill someone’s loved one, but he obviously doesn’t care enough to even investigate the issue and get the facts.”

Marijuana Policy Project Communication Director Mason Tvert said the comments were along the lines of what Sessions told a crowd last week.

“In his speech and in his memo to federal prosecutors last week, he said law enforcement should focus on getting the most violent offenders off the streets. That does not sound like a call to shut down licensed and regulated marijuana businesses, which are complying with state laws and not engaging in violence,” he said. “It sounds more like a call to go after unregulated marijuana producers and dealers who are operating in the illicit market. We remain hopeful that the administration will respect state laws regulating marijuana for medical and adult use.”

Tvert believes going after these state programs would cause the exact type of harms Sessions spoke of in his speech today.

“Eliminating these regulatory frameworks would force marijuana production and sales back underground, propping up the violent cartels and criminals that the administration is trying to shut down,” he said.

TELL US, are you concerned by AG Sessions’ recent comments on cannabis?

Jimi Devine has been involved in the cannabis movement since 2005, and joined the industry full time in 2009 after moving to the Bay Area from Boston. He currently works with Smell the Truth on SFGate,The Hash Podcast, and was involved in the organization of New West Summit in San Francisco last Fall. His writings on cannabis products and policy have been seen in The Boston Globe, SFGate, The Hill, The Chronicle of Higher Education, StopTheDrugWar.org, and HailMaryJane.com.

1 Comment

  1. Jesus Christ SuperBar

    March 16, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Sessions and Trump should sit down, have a nice dinner, and discuss all the mixed signals they’re sending. May I suggest McDonalds?

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