Russell Hebets Sept. 28, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret about his attitude towards marijuana, he is vehemently opposed. Since his appointment there have been numerous rumors swirling about potential threats to legal marijuana businesses and states in the nation.

Sessions has been fond of reminding the public that marijuana is still federally illegal and believes that it has already proven to be too hard to regulate in places with decriminalization. Of course, legal states, whether medical or recreational, have openly countered these claims. So what are the arguments in this debate and is legal marijuana federally threatened?

Sessions is a tough on crime AG who believes in stiff mandatory sentences and increased penalties for drug related crimes. He prioritizes drugs, violent crime, and illegal immigration in his view of law enforcement. He has argued that crime is worse across the board and wants to bring back harsher responses. FBI statistics do indicate increases in some areas but the overall rate is down.

When it comes to marijuana Sessions is not very specific either, but claims violence around marijuana is greatly underestimated. He also notes a recent study indicating that adult use has increased and he declares that cannot be considered a good thing. Legal marijuana supporters however have shown that in many communities crime has stayed the same or lowered, and more importantly, access to marijuana has significantly reduced deaths by opioid abuse, by as much as 30%. Considering that the President has had to declare an opioid emergency in this country, this development in legal states may help provide solutions to the epidemic. Furthermore, teen use is lower than in the previous 2 decades. Supporters also argue that while some dispensaries do face greater risks as cash only businesses, this risk could be reduced by allowing marijuana companies to work with federally insured banks.

What both sides somewhat agree on is that there is simply not enough research. Advocates argue that removing marijuana from schedule 1 classification would allow for more research and perhaps lead to better guidance in determining policies. But Sessions does not appear to have any interest in reclassifying marijuana.

When states began to legalize, the Justice Department issued a memo, known as the Cole memo, which stated the federal government would not interfere with businesses in states that deem marijuana legal as long as the participants abide by the rules of that state. But now, Sessions is calling for a review of the Cole memo. His department has been reviewing marijuana enforcement since February and task force created for this was to issue recommendations this past July. So far none of those recommendations have been made public.

While Sessions’ attitude creates a looming threat, he has also said that states can do whatever they want, even if he disagrees, and no federal moves have been made to enforce marijuana laws differently. Policy makers from Colorado and other states are hoping to reach out to Sessions on how they develop regulations and enforcement, in order to prove the effectiveness of the policies developed thus far. They would also like to show him how the revenue from marijuana has been put back into the community in beneficial ways.

Currently 29 states have some sort of medical marijuana policy in place, 8 of those have fully legalized marijuana, and several other states are passing laws to decriminalize personal use amounts. Additionally the public attitude towards marijuana has shifted greatly and many people no longer object to some form of legalization nor see recreational use as harmful. Several countries around the world are legalizing marijuana and our North American neighbors, Mexico and Canada, are doing the same. It is clear that if Sessions wants to reverse these policies it will be an unwelcome and uphill battle.