Sessions’ Marijuana Obsessions
Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided to use the legal muscle of the Justice Department to pursue his longstanding personal agenda – some would call it a vendetta, against Marijuana.
While this has not been a secret, and he has made numerous statements since settling into his position, nothing illustrates the extent of his determination to bring the hammer down on other’s personal choices regarding the much maligned substance than when the subject came up once again recently during a visit with far right G.O.P. talk radio mouthpiece of the Trump administration, Hugh Hewitt.
Hewitt practically spoon fed Sessions with strategies Hewitt thinks Sessions’ agency should pursue against killer weed – now legal in 8 states; Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Rhode Island and California.
Hewitt, at one stage of the interview, posed this pointed comment to Sessions:
“Let me turn to marijuana. A lot of states are just simply breaking the law. And a lot of money is being made and banked. One RICO prosecution of one producer and the banks that service them would shut this all down. Is such a prosecution going to happen?”
Sessions responded only in general terms:
“I don’t know that one prosecution would be quite as effective as that… I do not believe there’s any argument that because a state legalized marijuana, that the federal law against marijuana is no longer in existence. I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states. And we will do our best to enforce the laws as we’re required to do so.”
Sessions, either avoided a specific response because he is not certain of the political capital available to employ racketeering charges against cannabis distributors – or because he actually has such a plan in mind and prefers not to telegraph his moves.
Hewitt’s Reefer Madness
Mr. Hewitt, if such a thing is possible, seems even more obsessed with your right to medical or recreational Cannabis than Sessions is – and that is remarkable when you are familiar with Sessions’ views.
It was reported by the New York Times that during Sessions’ confirmation hearings in Congress, a witness, Thomas H. Figures, (assistant U.S. Attorney under Sessions in Alabama) told the panel that years before he had heard Sessions muse aloud that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
In fairness to Sessions, we may owe him the benefit of the doubt with regards to his personal racial sentiments, due to the fact that as he has acknowledged – some of the statements accredited to him, were ill-considered and poor humor, not indicative of his core beliefs or of racism.
Hewitt badgered Sessions on the enforcement or lack thereof, of Cannabis in the Trump Justice Department telling Sessions:
“One prosecution that invokes Supremacy Clause against one large dope manufacturing concern, and follows the money as it normally would in any drug operation and seizes it, would shut, would chill all of this. But I haven’t seen one in nine months, yet. Is one coming?”
It is not hard to imagine from the conversation, that Sessions was passive aggressively pushing back on Hewitt’s attempts to back him into a corner on how he (Sessions) specifically intended to deal with the Marijuana issue. Hewitt’s reference to the Supremacy Clause anticipates an argument that has already raised its head among courts and policy makers.
The War on Drugs vs. States’ Rights
The argument, from lawmakers in Washington D.C. who are militants in the ongoing (and failed) “War On Drugs”, is that federal law (Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act), classifying Cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance – supersedes any state laws that legalize Marijuana for either medicinal or recreational use.
They rely on the Supremacy Clause to justify overarching federal authority in this area – in opposition to libertarian assertions of states rights.
But it should be noted that the Supremacy Clause has been the go to pretext for a great deal of usurpation of the Constitutional doctrine of states rights as enshrined in the 10th Amendment, which reads:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Matters have become complicated in a number of areas, not the least of which are the 14 state governments that have declared regulated medical marijuana legal and the eight aforementioned states that have approved the sale and possession for recreational use.
Congress seems to want to straddle the fence on Marijuana – as evidenced by their continued kicking of the can down the road. For example, in 2014, Congress added a provision to the Consolidated Appropriations Act which ordered that “[n]one of the funds made available … to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent [various] States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
It’s important not to read too much into that provision. It only instructs the Justice Department not to use any statutory funds to interfere with the state laws on Cannabis. They could however, at any time, remove that roadblock and an Attorney General – Sessions, in this case, could ramp up a renewed effort to enforce federal law.
Hewitt is imploring Sessions to ignore Congress’ existing sense on the issue, but Sessions seems to want to place more emphasis on rhetoric until he knows how aggressive Trump wants to be on the subject and how much of a battle with Congress and the courts the administration wants to engage in.
Where is Donald Trump on the issue?
Donald Trump, as is so typically the case with him – has been vague and squishy about the subject. He has made some positive comments about the medicinal use of Cannabis, but has equivocated about the non-medical side of the question.
But it would be presumptuous to disregard the comments of erstwhile White House spokeshole, Sean Spicer in February of this year, when in response to a question about the administration’s intentions, responded, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of [federal law against marijuana].”
Wherever he lands on it will be dictated by his perceptions of the views of the GOP voting base and whether getting tougher brings him more political capital or less.
Additional pressure to impose federal enforcement on the states will come from special interest groups in the employ of the pharmaceutical industrial complex, for whose prescription drugs Cannabis has proven to be an effective and relatively inexpensive alternative.
One thing we can be certain of – as has been broadly demonstrated in all policy matters, Trump has no depth of knowledge on the subject beyond anecdotes and sound bites he has heard.
What Americans think
All of this is made more complicated due to the fact that national polling on Marijuana consistently find that Americans in the majority, no longer support criminalization. Of the opinions of voters surveyed by the Harvard-Harris polling organization, Harvard–Harris co-director Mark Penn said.
“Voters point to drugs as the major source of crime and support tough sentences for drug dealers but view marijuana in a wholly different light,”“Most think legalization of marijuana would probably be helpful in reducing crime and almost half support legalization.”
In their poll, they found that 69 percent said it would not bother them if marijuana were legalized in their state. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said legalizing marijuana would make society better. And 72 percent said that even if marijuana is illegal, those convicted of possessing small amounts should not serve time in jail. This lines up with the results of other major polls released by CBS News and Quinnipiac University.
Gallup has also done opinion research for over 4 decades and this graph illustrates the changes in American views on legalization. As you can see, in 1969, only 12% favored legalizing Cannabis – likely because it was successfully connected by authorities as part of the despised counter-culture movement:
Sessions and Hewitt and the rest of the opponents of state initiatives to de-criminalize Marijuana, are on the wrong side of national opinion – and most importantly, on the wrong side of freedom and the Constitution. What is at stake? Continued classification of Cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance threatens to derail a national opportunity to remove the stigma of adult Marijuana use and the ability to disenfranchise foreign and domestic narcotics traffickers.
In the next in this series, we’ll discover what is behind this renewed push to push back on sensible policy regarding Cannabis, including the revealing connection between Marijuana prohibition and the Opioid crisis.