In a statement on Friday, Sessions announced that the Justice Department would halt the practice of guidance memos, and review Obama administration guidance memos on legal pot to see if they went too far. It’s all part of his plan to end medical marijuana before the year is over.
Sessions is known for being one of the nation’s toughest critics of legal pot. He once said the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
Congress has until December 8 to decide whether to include the Rohrabacher-Farr Act (also known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) in a bill that will fund the government through the next fiscal year. Right now, that law, made up of just 85 words, blocks the Department of Justice from using any money to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.
In theory, without Rohrabacher-Farr in his way, Sessions could send DEA agents into a medical marijuana dispensary or producer in any state to bust it. Experts say, if he did this, he’d likely prosecute a distributor or a producer with other violations, like tax or licensing mistakes, in addition to its violation of the CSA. With the ability to do this, Sessions could theoretically end medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against the bill when he sent a strongly worded letter to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, asking them to oppose protections for legal weed and allow him to prosecute medical marijuana.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in his letter.
The bill’s 2014 passage, with 170 Democrats and 49 Republicans in favor, was the first time Congress passed legislation that protected medical marijuana users and businesses. It meant that an attorney general could no longer send Drug Enforcement Administration agents (or use other government resources) to bust medical marijuana in states where it was legal.
It was in line with the Obama administration’s 2013 “Cole Memo,” in which Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the Justice Department would refrain from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses and users in states where it was legal, and that it would prioritize more serious marijuana offenses, like drug cartels and sales to minors. The policy marked a change for the Obama administration, where medical marijuana busts were once rampant. With his letter, Sessions pushed Congress to end these protections.
In March, Sessions was heard at a speech in Richmond saying, “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.” This is despite evidence that shows marijuana use could, in fact, help people with opioid addictions.
Even the attorney general who set the precedent for federal prosecution of legalized marijuana says Sessions would be remiss to put many resources, amid all of the country’s larger problems, into prosecuting medical marijuana.
“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on,” Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general for President George W. Bush, told Newsweek. “With respect to everything else going on in the U.S., this is pretty low priority.”
The Justice Department has declined to comment on Session’s crusade to end medical marijuana. It remains to be seen whether the bill will be included in the coming fiscal year and therefore continue to protect medical marijuana businesses in states where it is legal from being prosecuted.