Power Plant: Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump and the Future of Legal Cannabis in the USA
The future of cannabis in America hangs in limbo, much like the career of reefer madness 2.0 proponent Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Now, as he and President Trump fuel headlines, the question many cannabis patients are left asking is, “What will happen next?”
In the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, many in and out of the marijuana circle believed that Donald Trump might be the best candidate for legalization. Despite the fears and concerns they may have had otherwise, they believed Trump could be the flag bearer for cannabis legalization. In March 2016, Merry Jane wrote that “Regardless of my inner struggle with accepting the impending reality of Trump as the 45th POTUS and The Running Man neo-cyberpunk society that will emerge, there’s one existential fact that remains. If you want marijuana legalized, Donald Trump is your best option this November.”
Motley Fool and others cited Trump’s approach to states determining marijuana legalization, much like the Obama administration had done previously. Their belief was backed by a C+ grade the Marijuana Policy Project gave then-candidate Trump. While seemingly a favorable grade, Trump came in last of the four major candidates. Hillary Clinton received a B+ while Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein received A+ scores.
In retrospect, Trump’s C+, to date, served as an indicator or Trump’s overall approach to politics: no one is quite sure what will happen. That is, until this week’s reports that could serve as a significant setback to marijuana in America. President Trump’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety is expected to release a report next week that pegs marijuana as a driver of violent crime. The findings led by the task force will serve as its basis for stricter sentences for those growing, selling and smoking cannabis.
Should the reports prove true, that still may not certify a step back. Depending on public feedback, President Trump may or may not follow through with the measures. In past instances, the President’s views on cybersecurity, the Muslim travel ban, and other topics have shifted after public pushback. However, that does not mean the same for marijuana. Several factors could ultimately sway how cannabis gets classified under the Trump administration.
Jeff Sessions’ Antiquated ViewsBefore becoming one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters in Senate, most in Capitol Hill circles saw Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as a minimal player. Sessions wasn’t known for creating legislation that could carry and impact government. That all changed when Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. Now as Attorney General, the once outside GOP lawmaker can now follow through on some of his more controversial views. That’s why marijuana supporters cringed when Trump announced his Department of Justice appointment. Though, other options like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani likely would have gone down similar paths.
However, it is Sessions who stands out as the staunchest of opponents to marijuana on any level. Since assuming leaving Senate to head up United States’ justice, Sessions has remained steadfast in his views, regardless of those that oppose him. The most significant stance AG Sessions took since assuming his new role has been on the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. The amendment that has been in effect since 2014 prohibits the DOJ from using federal funds to prevent states that choose to participate in authorized distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.
Before this past April’s extension of the protections, AG Sessions urged lawmakers to not renew the protections. Doing so would be “unwise” according to the Attorney General. In his note, he expanded on his views. “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions,” explained Attorney General Sessions. “…Particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
For many, the most alarming point from Sessions’ note was the “historic drug epidemic.” Today, bipartisan support for a cure to America’s crippling drug problem is evident. However, the support is for the country’s opioid epidemic, not cannabis. This first raised concerns within the scientific community. One expert, W. David Bradford, a health policy expert at The University of Georgia who studies medical marijuana policies told Scientific American that a failure to renew protections “would throw a lot of uncertainty into the [medical cannabis]industry and cause disruption for patients.” He added that medical marijuana can divert opioid users from using their deadlier drug of habit – and that the removal of restrictions could kill addicts otherwise.
Sessions’ views are, however, nothing new. If the current President’s views can be labeled “flip-flopping,” then Attorney General’s is definitely consistent. It was in the 1980s when Sessions was noted for only thinking less of the Ku Klux Klan once he discovered they smoked marijuana. Recently, he was quoted saying that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Additionally, Sessions recently spoke about his hopes to bring the D.A.R.E. program back to America’s classrooms. He recently told the Drug Abuse Resistance Education training conference in North Texas that, “D.A.R.E. is, I think, as I indicated, the best remembered anti-drug program today,” Sessions said. “In recent years, people have not paid much attention to that message, but they are ready to hear it again.” If true, Sessions may be furthering America’s drug problem more than marijuana. Studies show a 29 percent increase in drug use and 34 percent increase in tobacco use. Meanwhile, those who completed D.A.R.E. were no less likely to smoke cannabis or tobacco, drink alcohol, use illicit drugs, or succumb to peer pressure than their non-D.A.R.E. peers.
Dual Party OppositionSessions’ views are not only in contrast to the marijuana industry’s. He’s also in conflict with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. New Jersey Democrat Senator Cory Booker and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul are on record to stand up to any rollbacks for a variety of reasons. Booker cited the potential to create more violence and government cost from harsher marijuana policies.
Senator Paul, meanwhile, slammed the Attorney General’s May reversal of harsh sentencing of low-level drug offenders. Paul focused on the injustice stemming from the AG’s reinvigoration of the famed and failed Reagan-era War on Drugs campaign. He zeroed in on an American Civil Liberties Union report that found that black Americans were four to fives times more likely to be convicted for drug crimes despite equal usage rates among black and white Americans. Instead of the crackdown, Paul offered his bipartisan bill with Vermont Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy as an alternative. In their bill, federal judges could opt to impose sentences below the mandated minimum for lower crimes. “Each case should be judged on its own merits. Mandatory minimums prevent this from happening,” explained Senator Paul.
Additional bipartisan efforts for marijuana protections should come from the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Riding the trend of pet issue groups in Congress, the CCC was formed in 2017 and consists of four members: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Don Young (R-CO), and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). Furthermore, with tax revenue indicating a massive benefit for marijuana in states, it will be interesting to see just how far Sessions’ views could become reality.
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