Jeff Sessions' marijuana move will backfire

Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he is rescinding the Cole memo, which reflected the Department of Justice's rel...

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 8:17 AM
Updated: Jan 8, 2018 8:17 AM

Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he is rescinding the Cole memo, which reflected the Department of Justice's relatively passive policy under the Obama administration since August 2013 on enforcement of federal cannabis laws.

If Sessions intended to quell the enthusiasm of California's cannabis business enthusiasts and government officials, he once again fell short.

Unlike announcements from the DOJ in past years threatening to ramp up federal enforcement of the cannabis laws, this announcement was met with little more than a yawn by cannabis businesses.

The harshest reaction came from local and state government officials -- in California and in other states -- who insisted that they were disappointed, concerned, and surprised by Sessions' move.

Now, unlike in prior years, government officials in California and elsewhere are totally aligned with cannabis businesses in resisting the federal government's threats.

In fact, the landscape has shifted so dramatically in recent years that some of the harshest critics of Sessions were senators and representatives, many of them prominent Republicans, from states with cannabis programs that generate much-needed medicine and tax revenue. They expressed outrage over this action by Sessions, claiming it belies promises he made to them before being confirmed by the Senate.

As a result, Sessions has alienated many in Congress, where he can ill afford to lose any friends. Given his recusal -- apparently against President Donald Trump's wishes -- from the Russia collusion investigation, he seems to be in a vulnerable spot with the President. Trump has said that he still stands with Sessions. But the attorney general still faces allegations from Democrats, who say that he perjured himself during last year's confirmation hearings.

Without protection from Republican allies in the Senate, Sessions' next appearance on Capitol Hill could be bloody. Cannabis might be the issue that undermines Sessions' already shaky support.

Apart from Sessions' announcement being unpopular, it really doesn't have any teeth. The medical and legal cannabis industry has grown so big that it would be impossible to make a dent in it -- let alone stamp it out through federal enforcement.

Moreover, Sessions did not actually announce that there would be a crackdown on cannabis businesses, but rather that it would be left to the discretion of the local US attorneys in the various districts to decide how and when to enforce the federal laws. This does not amount to much of a substantive change in policy, which begs the question of why Sessions bothered to make the announcement at all.

The Obama administration's policy essentially left it to the individual states to regulate its respective cannabis industries provided those businesses did not engage in activities that threatened federal priorities, like serving as a cover for other illegal activity or violence.

Under the Cole memo, in the past four-plus years, the already robust medical cannabis industry continued to evolve with more than half the states now allowing some form of medical cannabis use and commercial activity, and now eight states including California, Colorado, Washington and Nevada permitting recreational or adult use of recreational cannabis.

Based on conversations I've had with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, there does not appear to be much of an appetite on the part of federal prosecutors to go after cannabis. And if they do, at the moment their hands are tied, at least when it comes to medical cannabis. Since 2014, the federal budget has prohibited the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute medical cannabis businesses pursuant to a budget rider championed by US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, a Republican who considers Sessions a "longtime friend."

The Sessions' announcement was likely timed to create anxiety in California, only days after it began issuing permits for both medical and recreational cannabis businesses. California and its attorney general have been somewhat of a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, filing a number of lawsuits challenging various policies, and perhaps most significantly, allowing so-called "sanctuary cities" for undocumented immigrants.

Although the spotlight seems to be on California, Colorado -- a swing state -- with a population that is dwarfed by California, has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from its legalization of cannabis.

It would be wise for Sessions to remember that cannabis businesses exist in red and purple states, too. Its investors include prominent Trump supporters like Todd Mitchem. Any real enforcement efforts would alienate this administration's base and be a political risk.

For all of these reasons, there isn't much bark to Sessions' bite. And in fact, it could precipitate a legal battle with California and other states -- possibly overturning the authority of the federal government to even regulate legal cannabis businesses, an issue that has yet to be decided by the Supreme Court. That would be the ultimate irony to Sessions' move and an appropriate epitaph on his fight against cannabis.

Huntsville
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 75°
Florence
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 79°
Fayetteville
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Decatur
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
Scottsboro
Broken Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 94827

Reported Deaths: 1674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12743242
Mobile9565206
Montgomery6521148
Madison525030
Tuscaloosa410371
Unassigned347461
Baldwin344323
Shelby320133
Marshall309034
Lee262844
Morgan233017
Etowah207530
DeKalb177113
Calhoun170413
Elmore169438
Walker150264
Houston136412
Russell13422
Dallas131123
St. Clair131016
Limestone128413
Franklin125820
Cullman120112
Colbert115613
Lauderdale113917
Autauga106521
Escambia105416
Talladega98613
Jackson9454
Tallapoosa84979
Chambers83538
Dale82323
Blount7743
Chilton7676
Butler75935
Coffee7475
Covington72620
Pike6907
Barbour5695
Lowndes56724
Marion56724
Marengo54614
Clarke4969
Hale46726
Bullock45411
Winston44411
Perry4364
Wilcox41810
Bibb4164
Monroe4154
Randolph39410
Pickens3849
Conecuh38210
Sumter36218
Lawrence3441
Macon33213
Washington32712
Crenshaw3133
Choctaw27912
Cherokee2637
Geneva2550
Henry2523
Greene25011
Clay2495
Lamar2172
Fayette1985
Cleburne1251
Coosa1012
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 118782

Reported Deaths: 1206
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby22635302
Davidson20185212
Rutherford640453
Hamilton597052
Knox440737
Williamson344825
Sumner336573
Unassigned30809
Out of TN284216
Wilson222923
Montgomery188313
Bradley187412
Sevier18307
Putnam171717
Trousdale15826
Robertson152119
Hamblen137214
Blount124310
Washington12002
Tipton11839
Maury11787
Madison102417
Sullivan93312
Bedford90811
Hardeman87517
Macon85613
Lake7820
Loudon7183
Bledsoe6901
Fayette6708
Gibson6705
Anderson6686
Dickson6662
Dyer6197
Cheatham5737
Jefferson5523
Henderson5472
Lawrence5346
McMinn52420
Rhea5221
Obion5194
Coffee5073
Warren4984
Carter4976
Lauderdale4878
Haywood4576
Hardin4538
Cocke4502
Greene4477
Smith4464
Hawkins4357
Roane4332
Cumberland4126
Monroe4079
Weakley3974
Giles36913
McNairy3665
DeKalb3392
Franklin3134
Carroll2903
Marshall2833
Lincoln2761
White2735
Henry2660
Crockett2604
Johnson2580
Claiborne2550
Hickman2530
Campbell2391
Wayne2252
Marion2164
Chester2112
Decatur1983
Polk1953
Grainger1940
Overton1751
Unicoi1560
Union1500
Cannon1420
Benton1391
Humphreys1203
Jackson1181
Scott1180
Grundy1112
Morgan1031
Sequatchie1020
Meigs1010
Fentress880
Hancock781
Perry770
Clay740
Stewart730
Lewis711
Moore600
Houston570
Van Buren350
Pickett311

Community Events