From 2009 to 2014, several memos were issued to the Department of Justice, each of which provided prosecutors with guidance on how they should address the nascent state-legalized cannabis industry. In short, those memos told prosecutors to lay off cannabis operations that were in compliance with their state’s regulations. On January 4, 2018, only three days after California launched its recreational sales, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew that guidance. The action was a tremor that shook the industry enough to remind it of the magnitude of devastation a federal crackdown would be to its continued existence—and to the relationship between individual states and the federal government.
What Exactly Did Sessions Say?
In a written statement, Sessions released the following memo to the Department of Justice:
“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions. […] These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.
Given the Department’s well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance’s specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”
In other words, Sessions said that federal law should always be considered by federal prosecutors, and that the law is enough. The Obama-era guidance is an unnecessary extra that prosecutors no longer have to consider.
While Sessions’ memo doesn’t outright say, “take the potheads down,” it makes it clear that he has no interest at all in protecting state’s rights when it comes to cannabis. The memo’s text coupled with Sessions’ notorious and publically recorded disdain for cannabis leave little room for doubt that the AG wants legal cannabis to go away.
And the Crowd Went Wild…for Weed
Alomst no one is buying what Sessions is selling, partly because they’ve spent all their money on legal weed (45% tax rate, California?) and partly because he seems to be the only one still watching Reefer Madness. An October 2017 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization, and for the first time, the majority of Republicans agree with the rest of America on the topic as well. Sessions’ reversals were meant to inspire fear and reticence. Instead, they have galvanized not only those who advocate for legal cannabis, but those who adamantly support state rights (i.e., Sessions’ own party). Here are some of the most quotable responses to the AG’s out of touch decision.
Weird, but Go with It
The Colorado State Senate Democratic Caucus tweeted this simultaneously ballsy and cringe-worthy response to Sessions’ statement:
“We’ll give Jeff Sessions our legal pot when he pries it from our warm, extremely interesting to look at hands.”
The true meaning of this tweet becomes apparent the more bowls you smoke. For the sober, they included this follow up:
“The marijuana industry supports hundreds of small businesses across our state. Since legalization, marijuana has generated $617,767,334 in tax revenue. Instead of going to drug cartels, that money helps fund our schools and addiction treatment programs for more dangerous drugs.”
Back Up Off My Legal Weed. Or Else.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner played no games when he essentially called Sessions a liar and a despot in this response to the AG’s decision:
“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states. I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominations, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
In this epic series of tweets, the Senator is basically saying that he will take the entire DOJ down if Sessions doesn’t recognize who he’s messing with.
Hate to Beat a Dead Horse, But…
Democratic Senator Cory Booker knows how to say “it’s a bad idea” in thirty different ways, each of which is just as correct as the other:
“Sessions’ determination to revive the failed War on Drugs is fiscally wasteful, morally bankrupt, unjust—and won’t make us safer. This backwards policy is wrong for America, and on the wrong side of history.”
It might be politically motivated, or it might be a sincere desire to do the right thing. Regardless, Senator Booker introduced legislation that would legalize cannabis at the federal level back in August, and he took Sessions’ statement to remind us of it:
“We must stop Jeff Sessions’ backwards actions. There is now great urgency to pass the Marijuana Justice Act to legalize marijuana on the federal level. Now is the time. Call your Senator.”
Do You Even Read, Bro?
Republican House Representative Mike Coffman held nothing back in a criticism designed to ignite the insecurities of every purported legal nerd, especially the one heading the Department of Justice:
“Attorney General Sessions needs to read the Commerce Clause found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution that limits the power of the federal government to regulate interstate and not intrastate commerce. The decision that was made to legalize marijuana in Colorado was made by the voters of Colorado and only applies within the boundaries of our state. Colorado had every right to legalize marijuana and I will do everything I can to protect that right against the power of an overreaching federal government.”
Yes. He went there. Interstate AIN’T intrastate.
El Chapo Thanks you
Republican House Representative Dana Rohrabacher delivered a scathing response to the AG for what he deemed as a borderline criminal move:
“The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels. By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself. He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.”
Sir, I couldn’t have said it better myself.