A simmering marijuana policy dispute between U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a Republican senator from Colorado reached a new level of intensity on Monday.
“Too often, we’ve seen bad judgments, even politics enter into the work that we do,” Sessions said in a speech at a National Sheriffs’ Association meeting. “We’re trying to confirm a number of important component heads at the Department of Justice. It’s just getting to be frustrating, I’ve gotta tell you. Our nominee to the National Security Division — the anti-terrorism division — was approved unanimously in the committee. But because right now one senator’s concerns over unrelated issues — like reversing federal law against marijuana — we can’t even get a vote.”
The attorney general, without naming him, was referring to Sen. Cory Gardner, who since last month has singlehandedly prevented the Trump administration’s Justice Department nominees from being confirmed in protest of Sessions’ decision to revoke Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
The anti-cannabis move by Sessions generated strong bipartisan pushback from across the political spectrum, but no lawmaker has gone as far as Gardner, whose state was the first to legalize marijuana in 2012.
Gardner and Sessions met last month to discuss the dispute, after which the senator reported there was “no breakthrough” between the two.
The senator, who said his vote to confirm Sessions as attorney general last year came after he received a commitment that cannabis enforcement would not be a priority for the administration, said, “I have not changed my decision to hold these nominations until we have a commitment that lives up to what I believe was given to me prior to the confirmation.”
Sessions, in his written remarks as prepared for delivery before the sheriff’s gathering, said, “I cannot and will not pretend that a duly enacted law of this country — like the federal ban on marijuana — does not exist. Marijuana is illegal in the United States — even in Colorado, California, and everywhere else in America. ”
By implying that Gardner is undermining national security to defend his state’s marijuana law, Sessions is elevating the dispute to heights not yet reached.
“We need our nominees confirmed,” he said. “Safety and security are important and those of us who are gathered here know that protecting the safety and security of the American people is the mission that we share.”