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Former Obama Staffer Begs Sessions to Crack Down on Legalization

Chris Roberts

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Even if you’ve never met a diehard drug warrior or a former Capitol Hill staffer, chances are there’s someone like Kevin Sabet in your life.

An increasingly long while ago now, during the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term, Sabet worked in the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)—the White House office that is mandated by Congress to oppose marijuana legalization. (This was when, recall, the ultimately hands-off Obama administration was at its most anti-marijuana, upending a legalization effort in California and shutting down state-legal dispensaries.)

Like the ex-military man still raising the flag at dawn every morning, making his kids stand stiffly at salute, or Al Bundy wearing his decades-old high school football jersey, Sabet just can’t let this go and has spent nearly every waking moment of his career since agitating against legalization.

This true-believer fervor broke new ground this week, when Sabet’s organization, Smart Approaches on Marijuana (SAM), begged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to start a multi-state crackdown on cannabis legalization on the grounds that state governments have violated non-binding Justice Department policy.

Specifically, Sabet wrote, Sessions should take aim at cannabis entrepreneurs and their venture-capital funders.

“[L]arge-scale marijuana businesses, several of which now boast of having raised over $100 million in capital, and their financial backers, should be a priority,” according to the SAM report. “These large businesses are pocketing millions by flouting federal law, deceiving Americans about their risks of their products, and targeting the most vulnerable.”

That is—kids and minorities. But mostly kids.

“These businesses target many of the marijuana products they sell towards kids, such as pot candies, cookies, and ice cream,” concludes the report, which asserts that the modern-day marijuana industry is a sort of evil hybrid of Big Tobacco and “black marketeering.”

For years now, SAM has been a reliable source of unreliable information about legalization.

It was SAM who widely circulated youth-use and emergency-room visit statistics from the infamously inaccurate and hopelessly biased Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking (HIDTA) report in an effort to discredit legalization. (HIDTA, recall, is part of the ONDCP. Do you see a pattern here?)

This effort has had very limited success: SAM’s signature accomplishment to date is its involvement in defeating legalization in Arizona, the lone state where cannabis reform was served a defeat on Election Day last year. And this was thanks largely to massive cash infusions from pharmaceutical companies involved in the opiate crisis and a Donald Trump-supporting casino magnate. Nice crew, lovely fellows.

Earlier this summer, Sessions sent letters to the governors of Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Colorado—the first four states to legalize cannabis—asking them to explain how their states were handling legalization. The letters also quoted from the HIDTA report.

Governors responded by requesting an in-person meeting with the attorney general, whom they gently reminded about the HIDTA report’s utter worthlessness.

The report “makes a number of allegations that are outdated, incorrect or based on incomplete information,” wrote Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

As Westword notes, Sabet is now trying to bait Sessions’s Justice Department to launch a costly campaign against legalization—by dredging up the same HIDTA report, in an effort to make the argument that states are violating the Cole Memo.

Released four years ago this week, the Cole Memo, is a non-binding, Obama-era Justice Department policy that, in essence, gives an excuse as to why the Justice Department and DEA are standing idly by as massive and flagrant violations of the Controlled Substances Act go on daily.

They can’t do anything to stop a commercial cannabis industry, and they know it; what the memo says is that they won’t do anything about it as long as certain conditions are met. Kids can’t get at legal marijuana, and legal marijuana can’t be a revenue source for cartels, for example.

Colorado, Washington and Oregon have all “failed to meet” seven requirements of the Cole Memo, Sabet and SAM claim. To wit: Marijuana is going to kids, marijuana is going to cartels, marijuana is flowing from legal states to prohibition states, legal marijuana laws are being abused to cover for illegal marijuana activity, and violence, drugged-driving, and other unlawful activity has followed weed around.

“As Attorney General Sessions considers what actions to take on marijuana enforcement, we urge him to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime, and to continue to focus any federal resources wisely,” Sabet said, according to Westword. “It’s time for states to stop playing politics and start ’fessing up to the real challenges they face.”

It’s highly unlikely Sessions will make whatever move he’s planning to make on marijuana based on what Kevin Sabet and SAM do or say.

This is all data Sessions had on hand well before this report—which is, ultimately, just another sad stab at legitimacy from an organization that has long outlasted its mission. The world has moved on, but Kevin Sabet and SAM cannot. Sad! Sadder still is when the credulous among us fall victim to the hype and listen.

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