JULY 21, 2017 — For reasons that defy understanding, science, public opinion and most state governments, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided that cracking down on the use of medical marijuana is a priority. Assuming he survives President Donald Trump’s pique, he wants Congress to roll back rules that prohibit the Justice Department from going around state laws to enforce a federal ban against medical cannabis.
As recently as May, Congress reaffirmed that the Justice Department can’t spend money to prevent states from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Sessions has a task force at work exploring ways that the federal government can better combat illegal immigration and violent crime, such as gun crime, drug trafficking and gang violence. Sessions thinks marijuana is a big part of the problem. Since government task forces usually report what the government wants them to report, expect this one to identify pot as a big problem.
The nation has a drug crisis, but marijuana has nothing to do with it, except as its sale is sometimes the source of conflict among individuals and between street gangs. Legalizing it would eventually reduce that problem, but Sessions claims — without evidence — that it makes crime worse.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, along with methamphetamine and cocaine, are a major source of criminal activity, addiction and overdose deaths. There have been people killed over pot, but it’s never caused an overdose death.
But for whatever reason, Sessions has a thing about pot. As a U.S. attorney in Alabama in the 1980s, he was confronted with a case of two Ku Klux Klan members charged with murdering two black men. He joked that “I thought they (the defendants) were OK until I found out they smoked pot.” As a U.S. senator last year, he told a hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
That includes good people who happen to be sick and who find that marijuana relieves some symptoms. Eight states have legalized pot for everyone; those states and 21 others have legalized it for medical use. Congress listens to the folks back home and won’t give the Justice Department permission to override those state laws. Sessions is irked.
Sessions’ war on pot is part of his larger crusade to take law enforcement back to the 1980s, when drug enforcement and “three strikes” laws were filling prisons beyond capacity with people guilty of nonviolent crimes. Many states, even deep-red ones like Texas and Louisiana, have realized the folly of that and have reformed their criminal justice systems.
The nation’s chief law enforcement officer is stuck in a time warp where “Reefer Madness” is playing. Pursuing sick people who use pot suggests how badly his priorities are out of whack.