In his first briefing with reporters as attorney general, Jeff Sessions said he was looking into the Cole Memo. The Justice Department directive instructs prosecutors not to focus their enforcement efforts on those who are complying with state laws. While not a law itself, the directive is the basis that legal cannabis programs are built on. It could easily be rescinded or revised — just last week Sessions rescinded a memo aimed at moving away from private prisons.
The attorney general expressed his distaste for cannabis and offered a reminder that cannabis businesses are in violation of federal law, regardless of state-level legalization.
“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” said Sessions, according to The Associated Press. “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.”
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” he told Politico. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.”
But in his comments, Sessions accidentally offered an argument for legalization.
“Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” he said. “You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that.”
Advocates were quick to point out that violence in the illicit cannabis trade only exists because “you can’t sue somebody for a drug debt.”
“The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market,” Tom Angell, chairman at Marijuana Majority, said in a statement.
“By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not.”
“Marijuana legalization has not lead to increased violence, but rather has lead to lowered youth-use rates, increased tax revenue, and fewer arrests of otherwise law-abiding American citizens,” Erik Altieri, executive director at NORML, said in a response to Sessions’ comments. “Legalization is working and the views recently espoused by attorney general Sessions are reckless, irresponsible, and outright false.”
Sessions reportedly met with Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson on Monday. After Colorado legalized cannabis in 2014, Nebraska joined forces with Oklahoma in an attempt to sue their 420-friendly neighbor. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Peterson expressed his concerns about the “big overflow” of cannabis from Colorado.
“I’m very happy with the idea that if we have to, we’ll bump heads with the attorney general,” said Alaskan Republican Don Young earlier this month when he joined his colleagues in announcing the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
Looks like cannabis policy reformers in Congress have their work cut out for them.