JUST IN: Sessions Evades Firm Answer on State Marijuana Laws, Leaves Door Open for Federal Enforcement

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director January 10, 2017

    marijuana_gavelDuring his confirmation for the position of Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions failed to give a straight answer with regard to how the Justice Department should respond to states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

    The Alabama Senator was questioned by both Sens. Leahy (D-VT) and Lee (R-UT) with respect to whether the principles of federalism ought to apply to state marijuana laws.

    Senator Leahy: “Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people using marijuana in accordance with state law even though it might violate federal law?”

    Senator Sessions: “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy, but absolutely it is a problem of resources for the federal government. 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 marijuana, some parts of marijuana.”

    Senator Leahy: “Do you agree with those guidelines?”

    Senator Sessions: “I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases, but fundamentally the criticism I think that is legitimate is that they may not have been followed. Using good judgment on how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine I know it wont be an easy decision but i will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”

    Senator Leahy: “The reason I mention this, is because you have some very strong views, you even mandated the death penalty for second offense on drug trafficking, including marijuana, even though mandatory death penalties are of course unconstitutional.”

    Senator Sessions: “Well I’m not sure under what circumstances i said that, but I don’t think…”

    Senator Leahy: “Would you say it‘s not your view today?”

    Senator Sessions: “(laughs) It is not my view today.”

    Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) followed up with questions regarding how marijuana policy factors into federalism and asked if the way the Obama Administration has handled marijuana laws created any issues with separation of powers and states rights. Sessions replied that, “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer Congress should pass a law to change the rule, it is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”

    So, 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. 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.

    Clearly, the battle is just beginning to protect state legalization and medical marijuana laws. Can you contribute today to help us keep up our federal political actions and advance our efforts for state-level law reform?

    134 responses to “JUST IN: Sessions Evades Firm Answer on State Marijuana Laws, Leaves Door Open for Federal Enforcement”

    1. Canada guy says:

      One very positive thing that I got from it was that it appears to me that Mr. Sessions is very supportive in any effort to update federal law with regards to marijuana’s legality. It seems to me that he would welcome new legislation passed by Congress that would end prohibition federally and would make his job a lot easier and he’d be able to focus on more important issues.

      • Matt says:

        Maybe even Sessions realizes that legalization is the inevitable future. Could be a positive development if he is actually open to change, frankly, a MIRACLE. But we shall see.

      • Optimus says:

        Let me agree with Canada Guy. It is positive that he all but suggested that Congress act to repeal the ban. Remember that this all goes back to interstate commerce. Arguably, homegrown harvesting and use solely within a State with no intent or evidence of interstate transfer should never be prohibited under Federal Law. Remember, these are States Righters and they also have a big “leave me the fuck alone, government” caucus. Gotta work with them.

        • Mark Mitcham says:

          With respect, I don’t think that’s what he said. I believe Sessions is simply trying to cloak his bigotry.

          If he had unilaterally and voluntarily issued a press release calling on Congress to deschedule cannabis, THEN I think that would have been a positive indication.

          But he didn’t. He was being questioned on his “reefer-madness” views, under oath, for a confirmation hearing. In the same way that Sessions was trying not to appear racist, he was also trying not to appear to have “reefer madness.”

          But what he seems to be saying is “Since Congress has chosen not to legalize it, I’m going to continue to view it as a crime.”

          As far as Obama’s guidelines for tolerance, Sessions said in essence, “they don’t work.”

          And that ain’t good, people! The prohibitionists were on the ropes and fighting for their lives, a few months ago. Now they’re back in power. They ain’t in the mood for concessions!

          Don’t mistake a white cloak for a virtuous character.

      • phrtao says:

        In his answers he sounds like he is quite a reasonable guy – but these are just words and Trump has cheapened political promises until they mean absolutely nothing. If he gets the job and does the opposite of what he says today he will not be held to account and herein lies the real problem for us all !

        That said – on the issue of cannabis (and drugs in general) I really think politicians are looking for a way to put this behind them with as little personal embarrassment as possible. Prohibition costs money; legalisation makes money and saves money. This administration does not need any extra expenditure after it has promised huge tax cuts and silly projects like this damn border wall.

        Time have changed

        • Anonymous says:

          Prohibition doesn’t cost money, it makes money. The real reason it’s illegal is because you could grow it for free.

          • Massey Richard E says:

            If Big-Pharm has any thing to say about it; Pot will be Schedule-1* forever!
            (Pls. note asterisk)
            Legalizing Pot will put a real big hurt on Big-Pharm’s leading money makers!
            Sales of over-the-counter and Rx required meds will plummet.
            Net losses for only one product, Ibuprofen, which Big-Pharm sells globally as a “Pain Reliever” will be BILLIONS of dollars!

            * Millions in lobby money gets donated to keep Pot
            away from those needing relief from pain.

            • I have found a legal CBD oil that will blow big Pharm off the map. The health benefits that I have found are Absolutely fabulous. I want to shout it from the rooftops. This is the way of the future….a healthier way of life

          • fireweed says:

            One of the saving graces of the pot industry, if you will, is that, yes, you can grow it for free, but to do it right costs money and takes time and knowledge. This will keep the pot industry growing with a built-in check and balance in that you CAN grow your own.

        • X@mailinator.com says:

          I’m pro pot, and pro wall. Enough states have legalized now, that there should be a move to repeal prohibition entirely. Extensive new lower level regulation is not the solution. Outright legalize marijuana for food, fuel, fiber, and now medicine and recreational. Alcohol prohibition was in large part repealed by the power of the jury and jurors rights to form grand juries and counter investigate the authorities enforcing prohibition. Rather than simply sit on a jury and answer questions within the confines of the direction of the court, they counter questioned asking why these cases were brought to prosecution in the first place. If this is a country ran by We The People, We The People should have a say in how it’s run. The government is in place to protect our inalienable rights to liberty, not to regulate them. Thank you.

          • Mark Mitcham says:

            You just fucked yourself good — your own pro-wall dick just went up your own pro-pot ass, when you voted for Trump. Please un-fuck yourself, and join the resistance against Trump!

            • Anonymous says:

              Why is it every time someone comes at as pro trump, someone has to act extremely disrespectful towards them. Just because you have different political views, is no reason to act in such despicable way. The liberals hating conservatives and conservatives hating liberals is ridiculous. Get over your differences and try to find common ground. Protecting the border is not “racist” or “Islamophobic” or whatever other buzzword you want to use. Everyone has certain issues they find more important than others.
              I too, like probably everyone on this site, wants the end of marijuana prohibition. I doubt Hillary would have tried to legalize it at a federal level, just as Obama has not. Unfortunately the best bet, Bernie, lost a long time ago…

            • Mark Mitcham says:

              @ “Anonymous,”
              Man, you have got a hell of a lot of nerve.
              The pro-wall, pro-pot Trump supporter fucked himself, and I called him on it. That offends you? But non-consensual “pussy-grabbing” doesn’t offend you?

              I was making a political point — the dumbass voted against his own interests in a big way. My saying so offends you? But proposing to build a wall to stop “Mexican rapists” doesn’t offend you?

              Man, you’re sick in the head!

            • Anonymous says:

              @ Anonymous, respect, respect Trump, respect Sessions,, respect people who voted for weed then voted red. No I don’t, not for a second.
              Make a choice, Republicans or Weed.. You can’t have both.

          • Julian says:

            While I agree with Mark, here’s a more specific way to put it:
            Please read up on Harry Anslinger and see how he blamed Mexicans and “marihuana” to start the drug war. Rural American farmers backed this hateful ideology with no idea they were about to prohibit the hemp that kept their farms going.
            Now look at how Trump started his campaign in Trump tower, blaming Mexicans for “bringing their rapists.” See any tactical similarities? BTW, watch Frontline’s “Rape in the Fields” to see whose really doing the raping to who.
            Walls do not stop illegal trafficking, they merely increase the profit of traffickers who then use said profits to purchase our immigration agents, build tunnels and buy bigger ladders.
            In short, if we want to stop illegal trafficking of any kind, we should:
            1) Be better neighbors
            2) Stop using USAID and the CIA to overthrow Democratically elected LATAM leaders to make their countries resources weak for US corporate exploitation.
            3). Legalize drugs so the profits will go to pay off our debt, not to strengthen cartels within our own DOJ
            4) invest those profits in school walls for EDUCATION, not some dip$#!+ metal gate blocking off a US golf course in Brownsville to save money along a horseshoe in the river. Clearly, even you can grasp how stupid and wasteful THAT is.
            We are all being distracted with nonsense about walls, Russia and Hillary’s fucking emails (I tried not to cuss) from either noticing widespread voter supression or contacting our Senators to stop nominations of Senator Jeff Sessions or Tillerson. Forget about illegal Mexicans which are net ZERO for immigration, legal or otherwise; what about illegal Trump electorates?! (Net 50)

          • Julian says:

            But since we already wrote our Senators and called every news radio talk show to block Sessions… Here’s the scoop on why Trump’s favorite wall distraction will never amount to a Pink Floyd song:
            There exists no Federal easement along the Texas border. And there exists an international treaty between Mexico and the United States from the 1970’s where no structure can be built to “impede the natural flow” of the Rio Grande river. As a result, private property would have to be taken from private American Texan citizens through a process of eminent domain, ending any attempt to build a wall in miserable litigation, just like it did when Bush W. tried to build it. And he was President AND governor if Texas. So in the words of former Mexican President Vicente Fox “We’re not going to build your fuc*ing wall.” (Damn, cussed again. Its so difficult). Well, unless of course we could convince the Mexican people the wall could keep out Trump and his Exxon cronies. But walls just dont work that way, unfortunately.
            Another good quote from Fox is “God did not tell Eve “Do not eat the apple because it will make you sick,” God said “It is prohibited.” And so she ate the apple. And if God had kept the truth from her but kept forbidding her… prohibiting her from the apple… I bet she would have climbed a wall to do it too.

      • Anonymous says:

        What have you been smoking. I didn’t read anything at all to suggest Jeff Sessions of all people would support Congress legalizing MJ. And more than one Republican has said flat out ” When I talk about states rights, I don’t mean Marijuana “

      • Stuart says:

        Sessions knows that this republican congress isn’t legalizing cannabis, so he can ramp up federal enforcement.

      • Anonymous says:

        He strongly supports the federal government shutting all of this down he’s not in support of reform as long as its illegal on a federal level he’s going to do everything in his power to stop it and make it harder for anyone with reasonable medical conditions

    2. Anonymous says:

      Leahy softballed Sessions…why didn’t he press for further clarification?…They all appear to be afraid?

      “Good people don’t smoke pot” – Jeff (Jail’em) Sessions

      It doesn’t take a weatherman…

      Something wicked this way comes…

    3. sonny says:

      sessions said today that he would respect the law’s from congress about pot laws,how many congressmen(women)are on board supporting state pot laws?

      • Anonymous says:

        North Dakota voted to legalize medical with 64% of the pop vote.
        Then it returned John Hoeven ( Norml grade F )
        to the Senate with 78% pop vote.
        His opponent had sponsored a medical marijuana bill.
        Florida voted to legalize med with 71% of the pop vote
        Then it returned Marco Rubio ( grade F ) to the senate with 52%
        His opponent had voted consistently to liberalize pot laws.
        Arkansas voted for med with 53% pop
        Then it returned John Boozman ( grade F ) to the senate with almost 60% pop
        His Opponent endorsed Medical marijuana.

        All three winners will vote for Jeff Sessions
        All three losers probably would not.

        Marijuana won overwhelmingly on Oct 8

        One party talked about a ” path to legalization ” in it’s platform.
        The other talked about reversing that path.

        Guess which party now controls the White House, House of Rep, and Senate, Supreme Court, lower courts, all Federal agencies, most statehouses and legislatures.

        You can see why your elected representatives might be a little confused.

        • Mark Mitcham says:

          Excellent points; got me wondering, too!

          Many people vote based on emotion rather than reason, we do know that much. So anything is possible, I suppose.

          But it also raises the further question: isn’t it possible, if not likely, that voting machines, manufactured by corporate entities of dubious trustworthiness, and operating on private, proprietary computer software, have their proverbial “thumbs on the scale” in specific key races? And whether that is true or not, isn’t it reasonable to want to be able to publicly verify that the software is legitimate?

          I don’t see why the code for voting machines shouldn’t available for public inspection. Hardware, too! I think the citizens have every right to know exactly how that machine works. It’s possible someone could point out something I hadn’t considered, but I see no reason for that code to be proprietary.

          Who Watches the Watchers?

          • Anonymous says:

            Democracy is always a leap of faith. Paper Ballot boxes can be stuffed. Any computer system can be hacked. Actually the contradiction in the elections I referred to do verify some faith in the system, if not marijuana would not have won anywhere, least of all in Arkansas and North Dakota.
            The points I take from the elections of 2016 are that.
            1. A lot of conservative Republican voters do want legal weed,
            2. They are not going to cross over and vote for the other party on this issue. I’m talking about pluralities,, there’s a lot of exceptions.
            In other words, the politicians of both parties now know what they have always suspected,
            Democrats can expect only a little bump by being pro weed
            Republicans have little to fear by being anti weed.

            • Mark Mitcham says:

              That makes sense. Thank you for that further analysis.

              Hmmm. I guess the part I missed has to do with my failure to understand the thinking of a Republican who 1) supports marijuana legalization, and who 2) will vote for marijuana legalization if given a chance, but yet who 3) will invariably vote INTO POWER the most ardent and lockstep of prohibitionist Republicans. I admit, that’s a struggle for me to understand that.

              I think I may be missing the emotional, almost religious experience of voting Republican for these people, which, I think may be what causes them to vote against their own interests. It’s not a logic thing for them.

              I’m totally speculating here, though. Can’t say I fully understand anyone who would vote for Trump, although I do know a few people like that.

            • Julian says:

              Unless we CALL our state and federal representatives and Senators and explain very clearly and personally to their staff and everyone who will stop and listen in their office that we will vote for ANYONE who will support marijuana legalization. Democrat. Republican. Independent. Patriot. Oligarch. Just DEschedule it NOW. Our vote hinges on it.

          • Julian says:

            Apparently independent news is the only source covering the real scandals that neither the corporate media, the RNC or the DNC really want us to know about:


            Voters were purged if their names matched a felon from another state. Because minorities are targeted by corrupt leaders in law enforcement… like Sessions will… and ignore the recent DOJ investigations into Chicago and Baltimore that prove what we already know, that there is systemic racism in too many police forces across America who line their pockets and city budgets with asset forfeitures from the poor and targeted minorities, these voters with felony records tend to be Democratic voters. Nearly half a million votes were purged in Michigan alone where Trump “won” by about 10,000 votes. And on top of this 50 of his electors were illegally registered. And yet were pointing the finger at Russia? Its all about the asset forfeitures. The CSAct turns cops into criminals who prey upon the weak and on nonviolent, productive marijuana consumers. The money is not reported to the Treasury and Congress gets a campaign donation. Russia may be a problem, but prohibition fuels organized crime from within the DOJ and law enforcement, purchasing and infecting our Congress. How do we connect the dots for Americans who still get distracted by the great orange douchebag von Clownstick?

    4. phrtao says:

      What Sessions actually said was that he thought congress should change the law if to correct the contradictions. He basically passed the buck as he did on every contentious issue they asked him about. He consistently said, on every issue, that he would set aside his personal views and enforce the law in the way it was written and with the priorities he was given.
      Not quite sure what he actually thinks his job role is – it seems to be merely clerical ? The issue is will he do what he is saying today ?
      As the article says we are no closer to knowing what he will do but it looks like they are leaving the door open to taking a hands off approach.

      Stay positive and take comfort in the fact that you are now a major industry with legal support and lobbying power ( if maybe not banking yet )

    5. Anonymous says:

      Rednecks win again!

      I can picture Sessions kicked back with a tumbler of Whisky and a Cuban cigar…”relaxing” in his “Robe”…and smoking Hat…if I make my point.

      Conversely, I can also picture many more people in Private Prisons…especially those who disagree with anything beyond what they are told to believe.

      Oh! America!…wake up?

      • Matt says:

        I don’t think these “rednecks” realized what they were getting themselves into. Think Trump is going to help them and the workers, the lower classes? Time will tell. I will give the new administration a chance, but I fear the worst.

    6. Matt says:

      He said that the DOJ will not look the other way on weed, apparently.

      The beginning of the end. He’s going to crack down, I have little doubt now.

      • Matt says:

        boy he REALLY sidestepped toward the end, there. REALLY evasive.

        • Evening Bud says:

          Sessions is hardly the poster boy for honesty. Look at how he tried to portray himself as someone who HELPED civil rights, claiming he “filed” 20-30 desegregation cases as U.S. attorney. When Sen. Al Franken pressed him on the accuracy of his statement, he of course retreated to the old semantics and false memory arguments.

          I not only worry about the Dems holding firm in opposing him, as they too often fold in these circumstances, but also the “principled” GOPers, who almost always put partisanship ahead of the good of the country and the people.

          In light of the circus atmosphere following Trump and his inauguration, the Russian kerfuffle, I’m growing a bit worried that The Donald won’t even make it through his first year as Prexy, because waiting in the wings is someone far more dangerous to our cause–Mike Pence.

          Pence and Sessions, prototypical evangelical types, look like two choir boys or two small town bankers, with perfectly combed hair, perfectly pressed suits, et al, but they are the truly dangerous ones. Heinrich Himmler resembled a mild manner banker, too.

      • fireweed says:

        If he tries to shut it down, he’ll meet with too much resistance. The horse is out of the barn now. States are seeing the benefits and lack of expected problems, citizens are realizing they either like it or that it’s not the problem they thought it was, too many industries already engaged.

        • Matt says:

          I dont think the resistance will be able to overcome enforcement as legalization is STILL far too fragile, and, yes, could be enforced. Perhaps not…FULLY, as in users would be largely ignored (not to mention, at this point, many people would not care about the outdated Federal law whatsoever, especially if marijuana use is now a part of their lifestyle). Sessions could stop retail sales in the new states and start wiping out shops in states like Co. and WA, Oregon, Alaska. He obviously could not stop the movement….entirely, as it would always loom under the surface until the next AG or whatever/whomever,and he cannot stop groups like NORML, MPP, even if he declared them promoting drug abuse, whatever, but he could do alot of damage that this country does NOT need at this point with legalization such a powerful, powerful force. I am hoping Sessions hesitates and choose not to act, claiming waste of resources and perhaps too controversial an issue at this point. He has an immigration agenda probably and other issues on his mind, thankfully, that are more pressing. It is also up to Trump and this is his FIRST term. He does not want controversary, even though, sadly, marijuana STILL is not a big enough issue to derail politicians who choose prohibition. It is a fact. Let us hope for a better and more evolved approach from Sessions, who, btw, yeah, I think he will be confirmed.

          • Matt says:

            but I do agree, there is enormous resistance, but the problem is Sessions has the power of law enforcement and the law behind him. All our protests and resistance would slow him down, but the movement is still too fragile and would be overcome, albeit NOT completely, and the resistance would NOT be completely eliminated either. At worst Sessions is only delaying the inevitable, however. It would be NICE to have California up and running and the others instead of last year, years earlier, which would make it even HARDER for him to crackdown. We need more states. FAST. And the programs up and running, esp. in California.

            • Matt says:

              Finally, for now, (yes, work again tonight) Sessions is right about one thing—-we must do something about that outdated Federal law. What is it, almost half a century old now? Neighbors like Canada and Mexico legalizing would help too, and Prohibition celebrates EIGHTY YEARS 80, this year if I am not mistaken. We MUST get with the times and the new century, it is 2017, wake up, Mr. Sessions!

    7. John says:

      Note his wording “…it is a problem of resources for the federal government…”

      In other words – given sufficient resources, his justice department would happily enforce the federal law. Serious red flag.

      • fireweed says:

        I interpreted that differently. I take it to mean that he perhaps views enforcement as a poor use of federal resources. This is the party of trimming unnecessary government spending, or so they say.

    8. Matt says:

      However, maybe you are right, he might be hestitant to answer because he knows it is such an explosive issue. Probably going to hold off on moving on marijuana until he gets a better idea as to just how huge the national tone toward legalization has become. I think Sessions might be hesitating deliberatly here because he really does not know how to address the issue, and the timing of a hearing is a very bad one to do so. As much as he might want to shut down legalization, he quite possibly does not know what to even do, would rather focus on clearing his name and on much larger issues. Going to be painfully interesting to see what happens…

    9. Matt says:

      Thanks, Senator Leahy, though, for asking those critical questions we are dying to know. Looking over this article and the comments again….perhaps I should not be so pessimistic. It….may be possible Sessions will hold off on enforcement? Could it be….he has changed? Or is this just a cover-up. Once again, I have to go to work this evening, but I will be back later. Feel free to respond.

    10. roboflo says:

      Trumps son is involved in marijuana back East–highly unlikely (hopefully ) he will attack Marijuana.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why, his son’s never going to go to jail for Marijuana,,, he could smoke it on the front step of DEA headquarters on live TV and still not get arrested, and if arrested not prosecuted, and if prosecuted not convicted, and if convicted not sentenced, and if sentenced, not to jail, and if sentenced to jail, it would be a really nice jail.

        • X@mailinator.com says:

          Conjecture at best. Show me a picture of that actually happening. That being said, prisons for profit continues to be a driving force in the marijuana argument. Back to the basics; The government should stop arresting innocent citizens.

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks to marijuana I’ve got two good eyes.. Go to any real prison,, not Club Fed.. guess what no Billionaires.

          • Mark Mitcham says:

            Trump’s daughter just got busted for pot in a NYC nightclub. I don’t expect she’ll be doing any hard time! Making America great again for privileged white people.