Last November was a historic election for the cannabis industry. Eight states voted to legalize cannabis in some capacity. Momentum is clearly on the side of cannabis legalization, but many are concerned that president-elect Donald Trump’s nomination for Attorney General might throw a wrench into cannabis’ future.
Senator Jeff Sessions had his first confirmation hearing in the nation’s capitol yesterday. In the past Sessions has repeatedly stated that cannabis is dangerous. During his hearing though he said very little about cannabis, and the subject was only broached twice.
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” Sessions said in response to Senator Patrick Leahy’s question about conflicting federal and state marijuana laws, adding: “But absolutely, it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”
Several hours into the hearing cannabis took center stage when Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked about the federal government’s involvement in cannabis enforcement.
“I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act,” Sessions said in response. “If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass the law to change the rule.
He continued, “It’s not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we’re able.”
Under the current administration, the cannabis industry has flourished. Medical cannabis expanded into 17 states and the District of Columbia under Obama’s watch and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis during his two terms. A lot of the credit rests with the Justice Department under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, which has largely elected not to challenge state laws legalizing cannabis.
Sessions comments received varied reactions amongst his contemporaries. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) said, “Nothing Senator Sessions said today shows he understands that the War on Drugs is a failure. Veterans, cancer patients, and parents of babies suffering from seizures need certainty. They need to know that the federal government will respect state laws and not come barging into their homes to take them to jail—especially since most of those state laws have been approved by votes of the people. If confirmed, Sessions should respect the will of the voters and the nearly 250 million people now living in jurisdictions where some form of marijuana is legal.”
For his part, president-elect Trump campaigned with a message of legalizing medical cannabis. Sean Spencer, Trump’s potential press secretary, said that regardless of any cabinet members’ personal stance, “When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda that you are implementing, not your own,” Spicer said. “And I think that Senator Sessions is well aware of that.”
In light of those comments, the Marijuana Policy Project says that they are cautiously optimistic.
“It is notable that Sen. Sessions chose not to commit to vigorously enforcing federal prohibition laws in states that have reformed their marijuana laws,” Robert Capecchi, MPP’s director of federal policies, said in a statement. “He also recognized that enforcing federal marijuana laws would be dependent upon the availability of resources, the scarcity of which poses a problem. He was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach and he passed on it.”