Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
During a news briefing about America’s deadly opioid epidemic Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions once again levied threats against the country’s state-approved cannabis industry, returning to the downright false narrative that the anti-weed top cop has promoted for decades, equating marijuana with heroin, methamphetamine, and other highly addictive drugs.
“It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental and we should not give encouragement in any way to it. And it represents a federal violation which is in the law and is subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges that we face,” said Sessions. “We’ve got fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription drugs and marijuana and other drugs. So we’ll be working our way through to a rational policy, but I don’t want to suggest in any way that this Department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it.”
But while that latest threat against legal weed already has industry insiders from California to Massachusetts refreshing the DEA Twitter page hourly, Sessions has spent the last 12 months crying wolf about a cannabis crackdown, with nothing yet to show for his constant posturing.
So why does Sessions keep talking about weed like a bag of kush stole his high school sweetheart? To get to the bottom of Sessions’ public fascination with reefer, you have to go back almost that far, to his early days as a U.S. attorney in Mobile, Alabama.
According to CNN, while prosecuting a case against two members of the Klu Klux Klan accused of brutally murdering a black man, Sessions was informed that the two defendants had smoked marijuana before performing the heinous crime, and allegedly commented that he thought the KKK was "OK until I found out they smoked pot." When Sessions was nominated by President Reagan to a federal judgeship in 1986, this anecdote and other incidences of purported racism by Sessions prevented him from being confirmed to judicial office.
Sessions has since claimed that the off-color comment was meant to be a joke, but his subsequent actions and attitudes surrounding both cannabis and race relations have been anything but funny.
By the mid-Nineties, Sessions had climbed the litigation career ladder to the office of Alabama’s Attorney General, and his apparent hatred for all things cheeba only intensified. In his position of state power, Sessions supported a piece of legislation that would have established a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of selling drugs more than once, including cocaine, heroin, and yes, cannabis.
As The Conversation uncovered, a report from the local Huntsville Times at the time said that the death-for-drugs package of bills was aimed at “ending parole, eliminating part of the appeals in death penalty cases, and executing people twice convicted of being drug kingpins” and had drawn “praise from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
Of course, this isn’t the movies, and so the Alabama legislature’s suggested idea of a “drug kingpin” included anyone who “lead a group of five people and [made] the minimum wage in drug proceeds.” At Alabama’s ‘96 minimum wage of $4.25 an hour, that qualification would have potentially put anyone caught selling an ounce in line for lethal injection.
Thankfully, Alabama lawmakers ignored Sessions’ recommendation and tossed the proposed death penalty legislation.
After stepping up from Alabama Attorney General to the U.S. Senate, Sessions carried his pot prejudice with him to Washington, holding a hearing in April 2016 to admonish the Obama administration’s lenient policy towards state-approved legal weed. According to the Washington Post, midway through the meeting, Sessions addressed the room full of lawmakers and reporters to claim that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Those comments were widely mocked at the time, but didn’t stop Sessions from hitting the big time later that year, when then president-elect Donald Trump tapped the crime-focused Senator to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Starting at his confirmation hearing and continuing to the foreseeable future, Sessions has taken every opportunity possible to remind the American public about his hatred for the devil’s lettuce.
January - March
After telling lawmakers that he “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law” at his January confirmation hearing, Sessions began his tenure as America’s top cop by telling a room full of law enforcement officers that marijuana is “only slightly less harmful” than heroin in March, starting a long series of malicious attempts to conflate legal cannabis with the country’s devastating opioid epidemic while refusing to acknowledge the plant’s potential as a replacement for harmful prescription drugs.
Two months later, Sessions personally authored a letter asking Congress to remove the federal protections of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment — a move that would open the door for Sessions and the DOJ to make sweeping crackdowns in states with legalized medical cannabis.
Over the summer Sessions continued his crusade, blocking cannabis research from moving forward while continuing to insinuate that he had larger plans to “crackdown” on the country’s legal weed industries.
Sessions also sent letters to the governors of four states with recreational cannabis programs, expressing his “serious concerns” about the intoxicating plant and asking all four heads of state to prove "all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws,” while simultaneously hinting that federal enforcement may soon be on its way.
Those letters were sternly rebuked by all four governors, and may have compelled Sessions back off...
...At least temporarily, as the Attorney General once again went to pot earlier this month, but this time flip-flopping, conceding that Obama-era protections for state-approved legal weed were still in place as guidance for federal law enforcement.
But, alas, Sessions’ brief beacon of hope for the cannabis industry was cut short yesterday with his “federal violation” comments, once again leaving cannabis enterprises and content consumers to worry about an uncertain future under the present DOJ.
Sessions said that the DOJ has had meetings specifically pertaining to legal weed as recently as this week, but that there are still no concrete plans to enforce federal law against state-approved canna-businesses.
Conclusion: All Talk, So Far
With California getting ready to flip the switch on recreational sales, and a number of East Coast states set to blaze their own path to legal weed, Sessions’ continued comments still have ganjapreneurs around the country looking over their shoulders. But thus far into his tenure as Attorney General, the proud Republican with four decades of public hatred for the cannabis plant and its users has only proved that his prohibitionist bark is bigger than his bite.