01.26.2017
policy

Jeff Sessions's Written Replies Don't Answer Pot-Enforcement Questions

The weed world's worst nightmare invites you to read between the lines.

The legal-cannabis industry has been apprehensive of a possible Donald Trump presidency ever since the new Commander in Chief went from being a fringe candidate to becoming the Republican Party’s nominee for the Oval Office. This wary suspicion of negative ramifications should the election go in Trump’s favor grew into outright fear when then President-elect Trump announced Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as his selection for Attorney General. The growing unease among the marijuana workforce veered toward panic during Sessions’ confirmation hearing: The nominee for Attorney General’s statements on how he envisions the enforcement of federal drug laws could easily be interpreted as veiled threats to rec-legal weed. 

Sessions clarifies previous statements that he will waffle on the subject until in a position to actually act.

Sessions recently provided written answers to questions posed by fellow Senators regarding the Alabama Senator's intent to enforce federal marijuana law should he be confirmed as Attorney General. In his responses, Sessions clarifies previous statements that he will waffle on the subject until in a position to actually act.

Below are the questions asked of Sessions, followed by his responses.

Question: How do you intend to balance federal marijuana enforcement with other enforcement priorities, given the number of states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana under their own laws?

Sessions: As former Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself said during her confirmation hearings almost two years ago, marijuana is still a criminal substance under federal law, and it is also still illegal under federal law not only to possess marijuana, but to distribute marijuana. I echo Attorney General Lynch's comments, and commit, as she did, to enforcing federal law with respect to marijuana, although the exact balance of enforcement priorities is an ever-changing determination based on the circumstances and the resources available at the time.

Question: If confirmed, do you plan to continue the policies contained in the “Cole Memo,” which set forth eight enforcement priorities for federal marijuana enforcement? If you do intend to change the Cole Memo, how do you intend to change it?

Sessions: While I am generally familiar with the Cole memorandum, I am not privy to any internal Department of Justice data regarding the effectiveness of the policies contained within that memorandum. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as Attorney General, I will certainly review and evaluate those policies, including the original justifications for the memorandum, as well as any relevant data and how circumstances may have changed or how they may change in the future.

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Question: Given the number of states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana under their own laws, wouldn’t you agree it is important that we know as much as possible about the health-related and other impacts of marijuana usage?

Sessions: Yes.

Question: What do you intend to do as Attorney General to advance our knowledge in that area? Are there specific regulations that you would ease related to marijuana research? If so, which ones?

"I will vigorously enforce the law and ensure that we make the most effective use of our limited enforcement resources to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into our country and our communities."

Sessions: If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as Attorney General, I will defer to the American Medical Association and the researchers at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere about the medical effects of marijuana. Without having studied the relevant regulations in depth, I cannot say whether they may need to be eased in order to advance research; but, I will review this. If confirmed [sic], will be to enforce federal law, under which marijuana is currently a Schedule One controlled substance—defined as a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Question: Would you oppose the nomination of a person to a position in the Justice Department or a federal judgeship if you found out that the person had used marijuana in his or her life? [Editor’s Note: This question was asked as a response to Sen. Sessions’s reported comment that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”]

Sessions: My words have been grossly mischaracterized and taken out of context. As can be seen from the full quote, which I have provided below, I was discussing the value of treating people for using dangerous and illegal drugs like marijuana, and the context in which treatment is successful. As I have done in the Senate, if I were fortunate enough to be confirmed as Attorney General, I would look closely at potential nominees to evaluate their character and fitness for the position.

Question: If you are confirmed as Attorney General, will you prioritize the prosecution of high-level drug offenders over low-level offenders?

Sessions: The same 2016 Sentencing Commission Report referenced above notes that the 400 percent increase in drug possession offenses “is almost entirely attributable” to marijuana offenders arrested at or near the United States’ border with Mexico, and that the median quantity of marijuana possessed by those arrestees was 22,000 grams, which is 48.5 pounds. Compared to the median of 5.2 grams (one-fifth of an ounce) of marijuana possessed by arrestees for drug possession offenses in other locations, this seems excessive. These, clearly, are not low-level drug possessors, but are drug traffickers who are smuggling their life-destroying poisons across the border and into our communities to turn a profit for violent drug cartels. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as Attorney General, I will vigorously enforce the law and ensure that we make the most effective use of our limited enforcement resources to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into our country and our communities.

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