The only thing surprising about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Obama administration’s policy of non-enforcement in states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana is how many people acted surprised by it.
A law-and-order Attorney General who stands in stark contrast to his lawless predecessors Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder and who has made it one of his missions to go after sanctuary cities for ignoring federal immigration laws was never going to maintain an official policy of doing the same for marijuana.
To his credit, Sessions did not make enforcement of federal marijuana laws one of his national priorities and simply tasked the U.S. attorneys in each state to follow existing principles for prosecutions. The Alaska U.S. attorney announced nothing would change, as did his counterpart in Colorado, where recreational marijuana for adults is also legal under state law.
The pro-cannabis crowd was quick to jump on Sessions for withdrawing the Cole memo issued in 2013, but they should be thanking him instead.
What Sessions did was send the issue where it rightly belongs and shined a bright light on Congress to finally do something about reconciling the conflict between states that have legalized medicinal and/or recreational use and the laws on the books classifying the drug alongside heroin and cocaine.
Truly, it is an amazing thing to hear those with the power to change the law demanding the Attorney General not do his job because they have failed to do theirs.
Overall, 29 states have legalized medicinal marijuana; eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use; and 18 states allow for the use of cannabinoid oil, also known as CBD, which is non-psychoactive.
Together, that is more than 40 states with some kind of law conflicting with federal law, which should in theory create a super majority of elected officials that could change the law in bipartisan fashion.
Instead, Congress has been content to sit on the sidelines relying on federal non-enforcement, which is neither proper nor sustainable.
When pressed in the past, Congress has acted to protect state laws on marijuana.
As the Obama Justice Department and affiliated agencies were conducting hundreds of raids on marijuana dispensaries around the nation that were otherwise in compliance with state laws, Congress began passing amendments to annual spending bills that prohibited any money from being spent on such prosecutions.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has been included in every spending bill since 2014. Another amendment to Veterans’ Affairs spending bills has also prohibited the VA from sanctioning doctors who talk to patients about potential benefits of marijuana in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In short, Congress has found the will to allow certain uses of marijuana already and now will be forced to go further because of Sessions’ action.
Rep. Don Young has been at the forefront of this issue and is a co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that is seeking to recognize states’ rights to regulate marijuana as they see fit and to open the banking system to legally operating businesses.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have suggested it may be a bridge too far to take marijuana off the Schedule I list under the Controlled Substances Act, but that should be the easiest call. Keeping it listed alongside the highly-addictive and far more dangerous heroin and cocaine makes no sense given what’s been seen in Alaska and elsewhere where it has been legalized.
After a voter initiative to legalize recreational use for adults in Alaska passed somewhat narrowly in 2014, there have been four efforts at the local level to turn back the clock. In the conservative Matanuska-Susitna Valley, in Fairbanks and on the Kenai Peninsula voters have overwhelmingly voted to keep the cannabis business legal.
Not everything has gone perfectly in Alaska, with the recent issue of testing inconsistencies rising before the Marijuana Control Board to address, but there have hardly been any of the deleterious effects opponents warned of before the 2014 vote.
Sessions is no fan of marijuana, and Alaska’s congressional delegation are always quick to point out they don’t advocate for its use either, but that is irrelevant. The people have spoken loud and clear across the nation and it’s time for Congress to start listening, and respond with action.