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Breaking: Jeff Sessions Goes After Congressional MMJ Protections

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In a May 1 letter to Congress, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for authority to prosecute individuals in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use.

As reported by Tom Angell of MassRoots, the letter asks Congress to eliminate the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the Justice Department from using federal funds for prosecution of federal marijuana offenses where states have passed medical marijuana laws authorizing such use. Angell obtained the letter from a congressional staffer.  The authenticity of the letter has been independently verified by the Washington Post.

Sessions notes in this letter that marijuana is illegal under various federal laws and complains that the U.S. Court of Appeals has “interpreted this provision broadly to apply to both the Department’s actions that prevent states from implementing their laws regarding medical marijuana and to Department prosecution of individuals and organizations that operate under those laws.”

This, he believes, is “causing harm” to communities. The amendment, thus, only applies to the nine western states in the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction.

The attorney general argues that the nation is experiencing a drug epidemic and an upsurge in violent crime and want the Department of Justice to “have all the laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Sessions holds that drug traffickers are operating “under the guise of state medical marijuana laws”, citing the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment and an article in the Denver Post about eight people from a trafficking operation who had obtained state licenses.

Also justifying the Justice Department’s position are findings by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that the use of marijuana has “significant negative health effects” and the denial of a rescheduling petition in 2016 by the Department of Health and Human Services and the DEA, which argued that marijuana does not have accepted medical use in the United States and is not safe for use.

Dana Rohrabacher told the Washington Post that “Mr. Sessions stands athwart an overwhelming majority of Americans and even, sadly, against veterans and other suffering Americans who we now know conclusively are helped dramatically by medical marijuana.”

John Hudak of the Brookings Institution reminded the Post that the president indicated opposition to the amendment in a signing statement. Hudak believes that these actions “should make everyone openly question whether candidate Trump’s rhetoric and the White House’s words on his support for medical marijuana was actually a lie to the American public on an issue that garners broad, bipartisan support.”

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Sessions has recently appointed a task force to review federal marijuana policy and has asked for a report by July 27.

The May 1 letter to Congress overlooks the role of opioids in the “drug epidemic” it references, as well as reports that medical marijuana mitigates some of the harm it presents by providing a safer, alternative form of relief from pain.

Hudak argues in an email to the Post’s Christopher Ingraham that the arguments in the letter are a “scare tactic” designed to “appeal to rank-and-file members or to committee chairs in Congress in ways that could threaten the future of this Amendment.”

Written By

Jon Gettman is the Cannabis Policy Director for High Times. Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy, teaching undergraduate criminal justice and graduate level management courses. A long-time contributor to High Times, his research and analytical work has been used by NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, American’s for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. Jon’s research contributions to the topic of marijuana law reform have included findings on the economic value of domestic marijuana cultivation, attempts to have marijuana rescheduled under federal law and racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. Serving as NORML’s National Director in the late 1980s, he was instrumental in creating NORML’s activist program.

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