Attorney General Sessions: A Blunderbuss on Drug Policy

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Harm Reduction, Medical Marijuana

Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee (via Vox at

It was evident before he was appointed Attorney General that Jefferson Sessions’ drug policies are ill-informed and wrong. It took watching his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last Tuesday to understand just how this is the case. I had a “eureka” moment.

He closed his statement with a self-serving peroration that had no relation to why he had been called before the Committee:

“… Just last week, it was reported that overdose deaths in this country are rising faster than ever recorded. The murder rate is up over 10 percent—the largest increase since 1968. Together, we are telling the gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters, and the terrorists—we are coming after you. Every one of our citizens, no matter who they are or where they live, has the right to be safe in their homes and communities.”

The image of “blunderbuss” popped into my head. I saw in my mind’s eye a clumsy-looking weapon from the 1700’s that fired almost scatter-shot at whatever it was pointed at. The dictionary gives us two definitions: “1. a short-barreled large-bored gun with a flared muzzle, used at short range; 2. an action or way of doing something regarded as lacking in subtlety and precision.”

That’s how Sessions operates when it comes to drugs. For him, there is no difference between the recreational use of drugs and abuse. Everything is bad. This means that all drug use should be criminalized. Further, he equates drug use with violence – regardless of the drug and the reasons for its use.

Here is what this approach – if we can call it that – looks like. First, it leaves no room for regulating drug use. Prohibition is the only answer. Second, support for drug treatment and harm reduction such as clean needles, medically assisted treatment, and other measures, is not even on the horizon. Third, incarceration is society’s default response to drug use and most sentences should be harsh.

The consequences are distressing. Concerning marijuana, forget about tax and regulation. Even decriminalization (treating use much like a traffic ticket) goes by the boards. Further, the national opioid crisis might as well not exist. There is no room for drug treatment and harm reduction when all drug use is a crime. And we will return to the sentencing practices that have made us the mass incarceration capital of the world.

Am I exaggerating? Consider that the Attorney General already wants to prosecute users and providers of medical marijuana. Really. On May 1, he sent a letter to Senate and House leadership asking that a rider be removed from the federal budget that prevents him from doing so. (We are asking you to take action opposing this request.)

According to his letter, eliminating marijuana as medicine will help to shut down the drug cartels. Behold the blunderbuss. He argues that medical marijuana itself is a health risk due to smoking. In fact, there are many ways to use medical marijuana, including tinctures and vaporizing it, and moderate inhaling is not harmful.

Perhaps most remarkable, the attorney general seems oblivious to pain and suffering. Even the medical profession now acknowledges that medical marijuana helps.

There are other important examples of what Attorney General Sessions tosses away because of a failure to discriminate the different ways of thinking about drug policy. There is room for debate on some of the issues. But his position on medical marijuana is beyond the pale. It would be laughable if ultimately not so sad.

Please participate in our Call to Action that keeps him from using the Department of Justice to close down the use of medical marijuana in the 29 states that have approved it.