Why Democrats Love That Jeff Sessions is Going After Weed
AG Jeff Sessions’ announcement on Thursday that the Cole Memo was rescinded sent fear across the industry…. But should it?
The Cole Memo, an Obama-era policy designed to protect cannabis businesses from federal prosecution even if they are operating legally. Despite the fact that more than half of US states have legalized medical use of cannabis in one form or another, the regulations are still a hazy mish-mash and growing, selling, and possession of the plant is still federally illegal.
Sessions’ abhorrence for legal cannabis has long been known; although his sentiment goes against the 64% of Americans who already support legalization based on a Gallup poll last October. What’s interesting is that the Gallup poll results not only revealed that there are more Americans in favor of legalization than ever, but it’s also the first time in history that a majority of Republicans also support cannabis legalization. During Trump’s campaign, he declared that he would allow states to draft their own cannabis policy once he’s in power. Many Republican senators lashed back against Sessions’ announcement, and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado even went as far as to say that Justice Department appointments would be blocked unless Sessions changes his decision.
Gardner also cautioned that Sessions’ decision could have consequences on the Republicans for the midterm elections this year together with other detested initiatives by the White House and Congress such as the new tax law and the failed health care bill. The fact that the Federal Communications Commission voted to get rid of net neutrality last month doesn’t make things better; it only adds salt to the wound considering that 83% of Americans disagree with this decision. Given all this and Trump’s low ratings, Republicans face the risk of losing at least one house in Congress.
During the 2016 elections, 8 out of 9 ballots approved a form of medical cannabis measures including 4 states that voted for Trump – Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota. Additionally, California’s move to legalize cannabis was also widely popular among the African-American and young voter population; two important groups that the Democrats hope to court in the polls to get back their control of Congress, as well as governorships and state houses.
Despite the progress of legalization during Obama’s administration, there were still some disappointments. One of the biggest frustrations of the Obama era when it comes to cannabis legalization is the fact that they could have reclassified cannabis during those 8 years, but the President decided to leave it as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin and LSD. According to Obama, reclassifying cannabis was up to Congress to do. However, there was a process wherein the executive branch could have intervened to make this possible. Still, the DEA in Obama’s time declared that cannabis still has no medicinal value even if Obama himself admitted that he used cannabis when he was younger. Advocates were hoping that he would do more for the cause when he could have.
Strong Backlash Against Sessions
Erik Altieri, Executive Director of NORML, a cannabis-legalization advocacy group, spoke out about Sessions’ decision, saying: “This move by the Attorney General will prove not just to be a disaster from a policy perspective, but from a political one. The American people will not just sit idly by while he upends all the progress that has been made in dialing back the mass incarceration fueled by marijuana arrests and destabilizes an industry that is now responsible for over 150,000 jobs. Ending our disgraceful war on marijuana is the will of the people and the Trump Administration can expect severe backlash for opposing it.”
Sessions’ announcement will have serious consequences for states that have legalized recreational cannabis laws, instead of those that have medical laws. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which prevents the Justice Department from using public funds to go after legal cannabis businesses, is still in place until January 19 which is when the federal budget expires. If the amendment isn’t included in the new budget, attorneys will be able to prosecute cannabis businesses as they please.
Despite fears within the cannabis industry, many remain optimistic. According to Jaime Lewis, who chairs the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), the policy “does not mean a wholesale dismantling of the regulated markets that now exist in over half of US states. Now more than ever, it is of the utmost importance that we continue to support our colleagues and the organizations that are fighting for a legitimate, regulated marijuana industry and a safe, legal access to cannabis medicine.”