President-elect Donald Trump selects Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general; if confirmed, will new head of U.S. Department of Justice change course of federal marijuana enforcement?
By, The Cannabist Staff
The Senator nominated to serve as the next U.S. attorney general is on record saying cannabis is “dangerous” and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s reported pick of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement officer should “scare the hell out of the marijuana industry,” drug policy expert John Hudak told The Cannabist on Friday.
Sessions, who has railed against marijuana legalization, could play a prominent role in the future of the burgeoning $7.4 billion industry. After November’s election, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have approved medical marijuana programs, and eight have expanded to full adult use of recreational cannabis.
While both Sessions and Trump have spoken in favor of states’ rights, some of Sessions’ recent and past comments about marijuana — among other racial and social issues — have stoked concerns among some industry members and observers.
At a U.S. Senate Drug Caucus hearing in April on whether the Justice Department was too lax in its marijuana enforcement, Sessions ripped laws allowing marijuana use:
“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say that marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger,” he said, noting statistics on accidents and traffic fatalities.
“To give that away and make it socially acceptable, creates the demand, increased demand that results in people being addicted or impacted adversely,” Sessions said.
Sessions’ previous comments related to marijuana have not been terribly favorable either, and the 69-year-old, four-term senator also has been chastised for racially charged comments and actions, including one that placed marijuana use as worse than the Ku Klux Klan, according to The New York Times:
While serving as a United States prosecutor in Alabama, Mr. Sessions was nominated in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship. But his nomination was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee because of racially charged comments and actions. At that time, he was one of two judicial nominees whose selections were halted by the panel in nearly 50 years.
In testimony before the committee, former colleagues said that Mr. Sessions had referred to the N.A.A.C.P., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” An African-American federal prosecutor then, Thomas H. Figures, said Mr. Sessions had referred to him as “boy” and testified that Mr. Sessions said the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot.” Mr. Sessions dismissed that remark as a joke.