As he sits testifying today before the Senate Intelligence Committee and as Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee fume because he sent a surrogate to testify before them today Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also quietly working to undo the marijuana policy of 29 states where marijuana use and sales are either about to be made broadly legal, are already legal for recreational purposes, or are broadly legal for medicinal purposes. As the Washington Post reports, Sessions submitted a letter on May 1, now public, asking that Congress omit a three-year-old ban on the appropriation of funds to the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes in states that have made the substance legal.
Speaking as though he believes that the current opioid and heroin epidemics sweeping the nation are one and the same with the use and sale of pot, Sessions writes, "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."
The protections Sessions is talking about, in place since 2014, are known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, and they were recently extended in an appropriations act, as Consumerist noted, meaning the Department of Justice can not allocate funds to the prosecution of medical marijuana possession, cultivation, or sale until at least September 30. But Sessions is now asking that future appropriations bills end this rule, put in place under the Obama administration, essentially turning the clock back ten years on a subject that shows broad popular support in the opposite camp of Sessions.
Sessions hails from Alabama, one of 21 remaining (red) states where marijuana remains entirely illegal. Meanwhile, eight states have now passed laws permitting the cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational use, including California, whose law is set to take effect January 1, 2018. And another 21 states have legalized medical marijuana, despite the federal government's reluctance to recognize marijuana's medicinal uses. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that 94 percent of Americans support the use of medical marijuana with a doctor's prescription, showing that even with a wide margin of error, Sessions is in a tiny minority in continuing to push for marijuana prosecutions.
Purveyors of medical cannabis in the Bay Area are all too familiar with the yo-yo of attitudes toward their trade. A 2008 statewide proposition legalizing recreational marijuana failed by a small margin, only to pass eight years later, and in the meantime, federal prosecutors in California, under Obama's DOJ, launched a crackdown on medical marijuana operations in multiple cities as recently as 2011, only to officially ease up two years later (post re-election).
Given broad public support for medical marijuana, and the president's own previous statements in support of it, the biggest concern here is probably for laws that have passed legalizing recreational marijuana. Press Secretary Sean Spicer was careful to condemn such laws in some statements in February, making marijuana advocates nervous about how the administration is going to deal with the 29 states where laws currently run counter to federal law with the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment being the only thing currently standing in the way of DEA raids.