On January 1, the state of California, the 6th largest economy in the world, legalized recreational cannabis. Three days later, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back Obama-era protections that instructed federal authorities on how to proceed with cannabis arrests in states that were in the process of legalizing weed. While no laws have changed, this basically shifts U.S. policy from hands-off to open season for federal prosecutors across the country. Sessions called the move a “return to the rule of the law.”
The fact that Sessions is not stoked on cannabis is no secret. The AG has made it abundantly clear that he personally does not like the stuff or people who are involved with it for any reason, stating, “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and previously advocating the death penalty for pot dealers. He spent many hours throughout 2017 in offices with other opponents of legalization, planning various strategies for combating legalization efforts being pursued by individual states.
Back in December, Sessions held a closed-door meeting covering such subjects as cannabis not being a substitute for opiates, the plague of “drugged” driving, and ways the Food Drug Administration might get involved in the conversation. Before booting reporters from the meeting, he gave this Trumpian doublespeak quote: “I do believe, and I’m afraid, that the public is not properly educated on some of the issues related to marijuana. And that would be a matter that we could, all of us together, maybe be helpful in working on and that would allow better policy to actually be enacted.” What?
It’s an increasingly hypocritical stance coming from a political party that insists on the primacy of states’ rights. It’s also not a unified stance. Republican Senator Cory Gardner tweeted at 7 a.m. the morning of the announcement: “This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states. … I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
Understandably, the cannabis industry collectively flinched when the news was announced. Currently, the cannabis industry provides more than 150,000 jobs and contributes almost $7 Billion to the GDP, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to state’s budgets. Still, even with the Obama-era protections in place, producers and sellers still faced a wide variety of challenges traditional manufacturing and sales. Jim Cole, the original author of the Cole Memo that outlined the more lenient policies, said in an interview with CNN that he sees the industry’s “level of comfort” going down, with investors being warier of getting involved.
Governor Jay Inslee stated, “I am especially frustrated that this announcement comes after Sessions has refused offers from Attorney General Ferguson and myself to meet with him to discuss these policies in person after he has disregarded the input that we and other state leaders have provided to his department.” In fact, Sessions has refused to meet with our governor, our legislative leaders, and our state’s Attorney General.
Former AG and current Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released a statement as well, proclaiming, “Let’s be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults. Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions.”