03.02.2017
policy

The Jeff Sessions Russia Connection Could Be Good or Bad for Legal Weed

Under every reason for optimism is a foundation for pessimism.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been sending shivers throughout the legal marijuana biosphere ever since Donald Trump, as president-elect, suggested the Republican junior senator from Alabama as the federal government’s top cop back in November.

Sessions was on record as saying:

• “Marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. It’s in fact a very real danger.”

• “This drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny. It’s not something to laugh about.”

• “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Within the past week, Attorney General Sessions presented reporters at the Justice Department with arguments for reevaluating federal law enforcement’s more-or-less hands-off approach to marijuana activity in weed-legal states. Sessions dropped a reminder that “it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

One subtext of Sessions’s on-the-record remarks seemed to be that he has the power to unleash the wrath of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Prisons upon state-regulated commercial cannabis operations if he felt the whim to do so.

Lying to Congress, particularly while giving sworn testimony, is a crime.

As of now, all those snarly weed quips are no longer the Attorney General’s highest trending quotes on the Internet. In fact, the latest newsworthy statement from the Attorney General makes no mention of weed whatsoever: “I have never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Sessions gave this explanation after reports surfaced that he had spoken to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice during Donald Trump’s campaign for President. Speaking to an ambassador is, of course, not against the law. Sessions’s problem is that while under oath during his Senate confirmation hearing he denied having had contact with Russian officials during the Trump campaign. Lying to Congress, particularly while giving sworn testimony, is a crime.

Democrats have leapt to the nearest available news outlets to demand Sessions resign as Attorney General. Some Republicans are conceding that Sessions should recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—to avoid appearance of conflicted interest. And at least one marijuana news platform has exhaled a sigh of relief, under the headline: “Thank Russia. Sessions Now Too Preoccupied to Crack Down on Marijuana.”

Perhaps Sessions has seen cracking down on recreational marijuana as a diversionary tactic all along.

The reasoning behind the “Thank Russia” think piece is that the Attorney General will be so busy fighting off calls for his resignation, and perhaps even defending himself from a criminal investigation, that he will be distracted from his veiled, half-baked plans to root out the legal-weed industry in the states that sanction it. The view that Sessions is now otherwise occupied may turn out to be correct, and there is no harm in hoping so—and in hoping that this Russian dustup will knock Sessions right out of office.

Just don't hold your breath while holding those hopes.

The Sessions thought process may move along different lines than the route taken by the mind of a marijuana-advocating editorial writer. Perhaps Sessions has viewed cracking down on recreational marijuana as a diversionary tactic all along. Shutting down recreational weed stores up and down the West Coast and in a few adjacent states may look like an easy win to Sessions and the rest of the Trump Administration. Chances of any DEA agents losing their lives in a raid of Seattle chronic shops, for instance, are low to nonexistent.

Today, more than ever, Jeff Sessions needs some raw spectacle that will draw off media and constituent attention that might otherwise focus on his own vulnerabilities. That spectacle could easily be green and sticky and centered in eight states, seven of which voted against the Attorney General's boss in the 2016 election.

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