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On a conference call with reporters this week, Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s Senior Director of National Affairs, discussed the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) for U.S. Attorney General:
“Civil rights groups point out that Sen. Sessions has been one of the Senate’s most extreme voices on issues affecting immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, Women and the LGBT community. He has a long record of obstructing civil rights.
“In the area of drug policy reform, Sen. Sessions is a drug war dinosaur. His has nearly singlehandedly blocked bipartisan sentencing reform in the Senate. Sessions has been critical of the Obama Justice Department’s guidelines around sentencing that were designed to limit harsh sentences, and he has criticized the Justice Department’s use of consent decrees that force local police departments to address police brutality, racial profiling and other civil rights issues. He opposes giving formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote.
“He recently described marijuana as a dangerous drug and said that, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He has criticized the Obama administration for respecting state marijuana laws.
“If confirmed as U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions could escalate the failed war on drugs. He will likely use his position to oppose any kind of sentencing or criminal justice reform…He could also undo the Cole Memo which provided guidance to U.S. attorneys instructing them to generally not raid marijuana dispensaries in states where it is legal.
“The war on drugs could also be a weapon that Sessions and the Trump administration use to spy on, investigate incarcerate or deport immigrants and other targeted groups. Already, President-elect Trump has said he wants to aggressively deport any immigrant who commits any offense, no matter how minor, including drug offenses…Senator Sessions could not only escalate the war on immigration and the war on drugs, he could combine them.
“No one knows for sure what exactly to expect, but we should assume the worst. His administration, which looks set to be staffed by drug-war extremists, could go after state marijuana laws. Instead of just opposing sentencing reform, they could push for new mandatory minimums. They might demonize drugs and drug sellers to build support for mass deportations and a wall. Trump’s law-and-order rhetoric could fundamentally alter the political environment, nationally and locally.”
“We need to pace ourselves, choose our battles carefully, be strategic, and perhaps most importantly, keep our morale up. We need to find ways of supporting each other…
“It’s especially important that we find ways to create division among Republicans, who now hold Congress and the White House. The more they disagree, the less they can get done. Two areas that stand out for us are marijuana and sentencing reform. We have enough Republican support on both these issues that we might be able to create dissent within the GOP if Trump tries to do something bad in these areas…
The rise of Trump and Trumpism has put a national spotlight on white supremacy and misogyny. Everywhere, people are now organizing against hate. Drug policy reformers should be part of that fight.
We can start by taking a hard look at our movement and the marijuana industry we have created. If groups draft legalization laws that ignore racial justice, we need to call them out. If dispensaries, marijuana magazines or other marijuana businesses objectify and demean women to sell their products, or if they exclude people of color, we need to call them out. It is long past time to clean up our own house.”
The Christian Science Monitor tries to parse how or if AG Sessions will go after the industry. So does The Hill. “Pot policy in the U.S. is up in the air,” Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak tells the NYTimes.
Cannabis business lawyer Hilary Bricken shares her views at Above the Law. More from LAist, andMarijuana.com.
Pro-pot activist and journalist Tom Angell told Buzzfeed, “From a political lens, I think reversing course on [marijuana]and trying to shut down broadly popular state laws, that’s going to be a huge distraction from all the other things they care a lot more about,” Angell said. “It’s a fight that they don’t want to pick.”
To put this differently, unlike going after undocumented immigrants or Muslims, an attempt to crush the legal marijuana industry would likely have political consequences for a Republican administration.
If Sessions doesn’t realize it already, he’ll soon learn that gutting the REC and MED industry would require opposing state Legislatures in Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and going against the will of voters in states including Florida, Arkansas, Nevada, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota. It would mean killing tens of thousands of jobs, and perhaps prosecuting White, media-savvy, cannabis executives, who can afford good lawyers.
Trump did not make a return to prohibition central to his campaign — his support for MED has beenrelatively consistent – and for a president who wants to win re-election, it’s hard to see much if any upside for him in a widespread crackdown. Given these uncertainties, there is a case for the industry to keep its head-down and hope President Trump has other priorities.
There is also a case for action.
In important respects, the marijuana industry is a marginalized community. But unlike other marginalized groups, marijuana is also a thriving industry, one expected to generate more than $6 billion in revenue this year.
During the Obama years, the marijuana industry has obtained the resources and geographic scope to make the Sessions confirmation a fiercely contested battle, and perhaps even defeat him. To do so, Republican Senators, especially those from legal states, need to understand that a vote for Sessions will cast a long shadow over their political futures.
For more than two years, cannabis executives have been telling me that this industry isn’t just about getting high and getting rich, that it’s rooted in struggles for health and justice. The Sessions nomination is the test of that commitment. If industry leaders don’t fight when other groups –including those that include colleagues, friends and customers — appear far more vulnerable, it’s hard to see how this industry stands for anything except its own enrichment. If the industry doesn’t fight now, who will stand up for it if political realities shift and legal cannabis emerges as a primary target?
The cannabis industry is indebted to countless Americans whose lives have been ruined by the war on drugs. Honoring their sacrifice demands a full-throated, and generously-funded, campaign against the Sessions nomination.