On February 28, at the National Association of Attorneys General Winter Meeting, Jeff Sessions spoke out against cannabis legalization, saying, “I’m not sure we’ll be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.”
Sessions had been vocal in his opposition to cannabis as a senator, but was relatively quiet on the issue when nominated for Attorney General and during his contentious January confirmation hearings, leading to uncertainty and speculation around what his approach would be if confirmed.
But in the last week, that all changed. Press Secretary Sean Spicer first addressed cannabis on February 23 in response to a reporter’s question. Spicer said that President Donald Trump “understands the pain and suffering” of medical cannabis patients, but that “there’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana.”
“You will see greater enforcement,” he said, referring to federal law and recreational use cannabis.
On February 27, in a conversation with reporters, Sessions linked cannabis legalization to increased violence. He said that the federal memos released in response to legalization, which guided the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to regulated state programs, were under review.
“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, 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.”
Unsurprisingly, the issue came up again this morning in Sessions’ meeting with attorney generals. “States can pass whatever laws they choose,” he said, adding that, with legalization, “I just don’t think that’s going to be good for us, and we’ll have to work our way through that.”
Sessions also used the opportunity to refute a Washington Post story about research showing that opiate abuse is lower in states with medical cannabis laws. “Give me a break,” he said, calling conversations around cannabis and opiates “almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits.”
All of this has left the question: would Sessions allow the states where voters chose legalization to retain their programs, and enforce federal law elsewhere, or would the Department of Justice take a single approach nationwide?
There is no answer yet, but, notably, a crackdown came up today for the first time in Sessions’ public conversations on the cannabis issue as attorney general.
Sessions concluded in his cannabis comments at today’s winter meeting, “My best view is we don’t need to be legalizing marijuana and we need to crack down effectively on marijuana and fentanyl and other drugs.”