Attorney General Sessions Threatens States Over Marijuana Legalization

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana

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We have long known that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not approve of marijuana, not to mention any drug. (His office refuses to answer the question of whether he drinks alcohol.)  He has famously said that “good people” don’t use marijuana.

On January 4, he implicitly threatened states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.  He rescinded an Obama-era memo, issued in 2013, which had signaled considerable leeway for states even though marijuana is illegal under federal law.

His timing was ironic.  He issued his memo the day before the Vermont House of Representatives was scheduled to vote to legalize marijuana through legislative action.  Indeed, they did so on January 5th, and the Vermont Senate did the same a week later. Apparently, as one of my advocacy colleagues said, “They did not get the memo.”

Other states where legalization has been recently approved by ballot initiative—most notably Massachusetts and Maineseem for the most part undeterred by the Sessions memo.

In Colorado, one of the first two such states (Washington was the other) to legalize marijuana in 2012, the response has verged upon anger.  US Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) feels betrayed.  During Mr. Sessions’ confirmation hearing as attorney general, Sen. Gardner asked for and received assurances that no such action would be taken.

There are two reasons why I think we should be not only bemused but angry at what the Attorney General has done.  The first is that we have long passed the point of wondering whether cannabis as medicine has value.  It clearly does.  It is now a reality in 29 states containing over 60% of the U.S. population.

Respected medical journals document that marijuana offers relief for patients with cancer and multiple sclerosis and severe chronic pain.  An article entitled, “Talking About Marijuana—In Church” in the January 3 issue of The Christian Century notes that marijuana is important to older folks because “it appears to be particularly helpful in coping with the myriad side effects of other drugs.”   Are these not “good people”?

It is not clear yet what the consequences of the Sessions memo will be, but it may make life more difficult for the providers of medical marijuana.  For this, he should be condemned.  (We provide the opportunity to TAKE ACTION.)

The second reason for anger starts with the fact that we are in the midst of a national opioid health crisis. Mr. Sessions should use the resources of his office to prosecute those in the medical community who have helped to create and continued to fuel this epidemic. When it comes to medical marijuana, he should recognize the promise of marijuana as reducing the need for opioids.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions by all accounts likes his job because it enables him to pursue “law and order” policies of the 1980s which he is now in a position to impose. When it comes to marijuana, he is wrong.