Sessions targets legal marijuana
Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw the burgeoning legal marijuana market into turmoil last week by empowering U.S. prosecutors to enforce federal laws against pot in states where the drug has been legalized. Sessions, a fierce opponent of legalizing weed, announced he was scrapping an Obama-era policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from filing charges in some states because marijuana activity “is a serious crime” and the hands-off approach “undermines the rule of law.” Now it will be up to each of the country’s 93 U.S. attorneys to decide how aggressively they want to pursue weed cases. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
The announcement sparked a bipartisan backlash from lawmakers in states that have legalized marijuana. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow the use of pot for medical purposes; eight states have legalized recreational sales. Altogether, the legal weed market is expected to reach $9 billion by the end of this year, with some 4,500 medical and recreational shops across the country. But Sessions’ move could slow the industry’s growth if investors become leery of the shifting legal terrain. “It’s a really scary time for us,” said Jaime Lewis, who owns a Denver-based marijuana edibles company.
What the columnists said
The attorney general’s decision is a “return to insanity,” said Timothy Egan in The New York Times. It’s widely agreed that the $1 trillion war on drugs has been a spectacular failure, particularly its prohibition of marijuana, and 71 percent of Americans oppose federal efforts to stop marijuana sales. But Sessions continues to rail against weed, calling it a “gateway drug” only “slightly less awful” than heroin. Meanwhile, deaths from prescription drug overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. “The real problem, as any sentient public servant can tell you, is opioid abuse.”
“Even though I favor marijuana legalization, I approve of what Sessions has done,” said Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today. Like it or not, marijuana “remains illegal under federal law,” and it’s up to Congress, not the Justice Department, to change that fact. Sessions is providing lawmakers and citizens with a much-needed civics lesson by choosing to follow the statutes on the books instead of making arbitrary decisions about which ones to enforce. If angry voters then pressure Congress to legalize marijuana, all the better. “That’s exactly how the system is supposed to work.”
Sessions’ policy actually undermines the rule of law by turning it into a “roulette game,” said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com. Now that the decision to prosecute is up to individual U.S. attorneys, anyone who buys, grows, or sells pot in states where it’s legal will essentially be rolling the dice. “What happened to Republicans advocating for state powers and against an all-powerful central government?” asked Siraj Hashmi in WashingtonExaminer.com. The Trump administration shouldn’t be telling states which of their laws are acceptable. You’d think a longtime state-rights champion like Sessions would understand that. ■