Attorney General Jeff Sessions has contradicted himself on cannabis policy
He’s called cannabis “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
A bigger industry than the dot-com era hangs in the balance.
Sessions’ fondness for the drug war could again fill courts and prisons.
Judging by headlines over the past months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration seem to have developed bipolar disorder on the topic of legal cannabis — during confirmation hearings, the former governor of Alabama expressed ambivalence on the issue, but just last week, he ludicrously deemed the plant “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
If you benefit from cannabis for any reason in one of over 25 states allowing it medically, or eight plus the District of Columbia permitting adult recreational use, you need to know the direction the new administration will head with legislation and enforcement of outdated federal prohibition.
With all of this in mind, the following are some of the statements Sessions, who steers drug enforcement in the nation, has made on the future of cannabis — a plant on which no person has ever fatally overdosed — in the United States.
“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,” Sessions asserted — obviating ignorance of myriad studies declaring the plant a viable method for weaning addicts from opioids — before law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia.
“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 … Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
While, indeed, abuse of or addiction to certain substances arbitrarily deemed illegal by the State can ruin lives and inculcate otherwise law-abiding citizens into what is snidely but deservedly termed the U.S. Injustice System, to deny peer-reviewed science marks a fondness for authoritarianism over reason, logic, and compassion — unmatched even by the previous administration’s official confirmation weed is a dangerous narcotic.
Oddly, Sessions had, moments before, declared “valid” the Obama administration’s Cole memo, which de-prioritized the enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition in states where laws have loosened, saying,
“We’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades.”
But that might be the most optimistic statement the legal cannabis industry — and pot lovers and aficionados — can expect from our new law and order drug warrior.
In November, the prospective attorney general raised eyebrows and concerns by enjoining lawmakers to instill in the public mind cannabis is “dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about . . . and to send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“I think one of [Obama’s] great failures,” he also asserted, “it’s obvious to me, is his lax treatment in comments on marijuana. It reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs that began really when Nancy Reagan started ‘Just Say No.’”
Sessions has even championed Project Exile — in short, a program intended to reduce gun violence by imposing federal charges and mandatory minimums for drug offenders also in possession of firearms, which is now defunct in some areas — for which analysts have had notably mixed reviews on efficacy.
“This Department of Justice will encourage more efforts like Project Exile in cities across America,” the attorney general said, “coordinated strategies that bring together all levels of law enforcement to reduce gun crime and make our cities safer.”
Rather than discouraging criminals, locking people in cages and lengthening sentences even when no violent crime has been committed only destroys families, clogs already backlogged courts, and burdens many hard working men and women with the stigma of a criminal record — which also makes obtaining gainful employment with opportunity for advancement nearly impossible.
In that vein, and with hopes of staving off new momentum to kill the medical and recreational, legal cannabis industry, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont penned a letter to Sessions urging measured decisions on policy.
“Changes to current drug charging policies that lead to more mandatory minimum penalties in low-level, nonviolent drug cases will not increase public safety and will only increase taxpayer spending on our bloated federal prison system,” the trio wrote. “We are concerned about a possible shift in the Justice Department’s treatment of federal drug cases and the specter that mandatory minimum penalties may once again be used by the Justice Department on a routine basis as tools to prosecute low-level nonviolent drug offenses.”
With all this debate over cannabis and drug policy enforcement, it should be noted the optimum solution to substances — for addicts, crime rates, addiction rates, and overcrowded prisons — is mass, blanket decriminalization.
Portugal led the way, but several nations have since experienced the multi-pronged benefits of allocating resources away from prisons that don’t reform the cycle of drugs and crime to those providing help for addicts and to other social services.
Considering a few of the aforementioned statements, Sessions might be capable of calming nerves — despite his acknowledgement in January that “it is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”
Image credit: Flickr/DonkeyHotey.