Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today that he “would not commit to never enforcing federal law” when it comes to handling states that have legalized marijuana.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont stepped up during Session’s confirmation hearing to find out more about where the AG nominee stands on states that have legalized medical marijuana, specifically those jurisdictions that presently allow the use of CBD oil by children with epilepsy.
Although Sessions agreed with Leahy that prosecutions related to federal marijuana prohibition might be a misuse of federal tax dollars, he refused to pledge his support for statewide legalization.
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” he said. “But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”
Sessions explained that his predecessors in the DOJ have already outlined a set of guidelines intended to narrow the gap between state and federal marijuana laws. But he stopped short of elaborating whether he intends to adhere to those policies, or if he plans to launch a major crackdown.
“The Department of Justice under Lynch and Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion, some parts of marijuana,” Sessions said, adding that he is not entirely sure, however, whether legal marijuana states have been properly monitored under the Obama Administration.
The most interesting comment came when Sessions, who maintained throughout the entirety of the hearing that he would adhere to the laws passed by Congress, told Senator Michael Lee of Utah that if federal controls were so concerned about his position on marijuana, the House and Senate should pass legislation to make it legal nationwide.
“I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act,” Sessions said. “So if we need to…if that’s something [that] is not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is 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 are able.”
While it remains unclear exactly what Sessions plans to do with respect to states that have legalized marijuana, some national cannabis advocacy groups say there is definitely cause for concern.
“After finally being put on the spot and questioned on the issue, we are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions' plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday,” Erik Altieri, executive director for NORML, told MERRY JANE. “If anything, his comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states. If Sessions wants to be an Attorney General for all Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention.”
Other groups, like the Marijuana Policy Project, say they are encouraged by Sessions’ remarks because he "chose not to commit to vigorously enforcing federal prohibition laws in states that have reformed their marijuana laws."
Interestingly, earlier today, President-elect Donald Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer suggested that Sessions would respect states rights and leave those jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana alone.
“When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda you’re implementing and not your own,” he said. “I think Senator Sessions is well aware of that.”
This is a developing story. MERRY JANE will bring you more details as they are made available.