The latest staffing moves of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who famously said “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” have Justice Department watchers convinced he is preparing to open new fronts in the drug war.
You might think that the Attorney General, the President who nominated him and the U.S. Senate who confirmed him to the position would all have a clearly articulated and well-reasoned position on one of the thorniest issues facing the position – how to deal with the problem of state-level rejection of marijuana prohibition. You would be wrong.
Since Jeff Sessions was first discussed as an Attorney General candidate, policy analysts cautioned that he might be ill-equipped to deal with the current realities of drug prohibition in the United States. With every new election cycle, another state or states decide to allow medicinal or recreational growing, sale, possession, and use of marijuana. That it remains illegal for any purpose in any amount under federal law presents something of a challenge.
During the confirmation process in written responses to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions stated he would “review and evaluate” the basis and effectiveness of the Cole Memorandum, an attempt to direct U.S. Attorneys away from prosecuting marijuana crimes where the activity is legal under state law. He seems to duck any opportunity to assure the millions of people who use grow or sell marijuana legally under state law that they can continue to do so, all the while not missing a chance to criticize, if not demonize the drug itself and occasionally its users.
With a new multi-billion-dollar industry at stake, not to mention the good health and freedom of many, interested parties have to look for indirect announcements to gauge where things are headed. The situation continues to look grim for those who favor the current trend of decreasing federal involvement in marijuana prohibition. That was the focus of a detailed piece at the Washington Post this weekend by Sari Horwitz on Sessions’ elevation of Steven H. Cook to his inner circle.
Cook, we learn, is a zealous advocate for treating drug users and all those in the supply chain as criminals. You may think the lady at the store who sells Mawmaw her cancer medicine is just a harmless hippy. To Cook, she’s a drug trafficker who should be prosecuted..
Liberty Nation asked the Director of Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice Tim Lynch what Sessions could do to turn back the tide of legalization. He said that “As a practical matter, Sessions cannot turn back the tide. What he can do is slow down the legalization movement with some selective enforcement of federal law in the jurisdictions that have legalized. A few raids on newly established stores and confiscation of property would disrupt the market and scare away potential investors.”
What does Lynch expect to see in the next year or two from the DOJ on marijuana?
I expect the DEA will be using undercover sting operations against the legal stores in the states that have legalized. They will try to create the impression that the local rules pertaining to marijuana are not being followed and that regulations are flouted. They will try to establish connections between a criminal organization and legal store or grow operation in an attempt to discredit legalization. The ironic thing is that the criminal cartels hope Sessions will crack down on the legal market, which cuts into their market share of marijuana sales.
In 2017 it seems hard to grant the respect due to a reasonable difference of opinion with drug war advocates. Particularly concerning marijuana. We know that the drug itself is not terribly toxic nor strongly addictive. Why prohibition then? As columnist A. Barton Hinkle recently stated, “philosophically, the war on marijuana belongs to those who favor the Nanny State.” Indeed.
Hopefully, President Trump will speak directly to the issue. It’s one that’s crying out for clear leadership and is certainly big enough in terms of lives and fortunes to merit his time and attention. Perhaps a tweet or two?