Jeff Sessions’ favorite song is punctuated by the drums of war. Bad news and ominous warnings of more ills to come pepper the attorney general’s speeches. Such preoccupations must certainly darken the man’s mindset. They’re definitely clouding his judgment.
In Baltimore for a speech this week, Sessions warned of a new nationwide plague of violence and lawlessness.
“Violent crime is up in many places across the country,” he said, before diving into the raw and painful numbers. From year-to-year, there’s been a 13 percent increase in Americans victimized by violent crime, like the murder and rape plaguing residents of Maryland’s biggest city.
Sessions has rung this bell before. His foretellings of the dystopia to come follow a familiar pattern—the presence of drug gangs, the need for police powers—and this one followed the script. After dropping the statistics, the Justice Department was sure to make mention of its efforts “to combat MS-13,” President Donald Trump’s favorite brown-skinned bugaboo. The message was clear: Only the thin blue line separates honest, hardworking Americans from being terrorized by heartless gangsters with face tattoos.
As Newsweek pointed out, there was just one big problem: Sessions’ data was wrong. There’s been no uptick in violent crime, a fact belied by the very report Sessions cited.
It’s hard to justify a hard-line solution without a problem, and absent one, it appears Sessions is happy to fabricate it. He’s taken a similar approach to opposing marijuana legalization. The problems legal cannabis have wrought, in Sessions’ mind, don’t exist in reality.
A few weeks ago, Sessions met with a pack of anti-legalization activists for a closed-door meeting, the contents of which became public thanks to Marijuana Moment after Sessions was photographed carrying the meeting agenda, exposed to the lens for all to see.
Among the minds Sessions met with were Kevin Sabet, the former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer who now heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, one of the country’s leading anti-legalization groups; Dr. Bertha Madras, a Harvard Medical School professor; and Dr. Robert DuPont, Nixon’s drug czar and the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
If those names mean nothing to you, congratulations, but here’s more than enough primer. Sabet and SAM are on a crusade to convince elected officials that marijuana legalization leads hordes of youths to drop their smartphones and pick up smoldering joints, a line they’ve held despite repeated evidence to the contrary. (The latest report from Colorado suggests that youth marijuana use today is, in fact, lower than it was in 2012—before Colorado passed Amendment 64 and legalized cannabis.)
Madras is the author of a notorious op-ed in which she deployed circular logic to explain why cannabis is more dangerous than opiates. According to the agenda, she was there to explain why, despite mounting evidence that marijuana use reduces opiate-related overdoses and deaths, cannabis has no role in fighting the opiate crisis. (You will notice that states with robust medical marijuana availability, among them California, have not had near the problem with opiate overdoses than states without widespread marijuana access.) Madras’ point is refuted by the National Academy of Sciences, which nearly a year ago signaled its acceptance of marijuana as a palliative for chronic pain, the chief malady for which opiates are prescribed.
As for DuPont, he’s a true believer, who would have you know marijuana is “the most dangerous drug,” in an age when other drugs claim 60,000 American lives a year, and he has clung fast to the long-exploded gateway theory.
In other words, a perfect Murderer’s Row of marijuana’s most steadfast foes, welcomed in to present to Sessions their fact-challenged worldviews—without a single dissenting voice in the room. We don’t know exactly what they told the attorney general, but we know what they’ve said publicly. And we know what he wants to hear.
Most academics are circumspect in how they approach the world and how they describe it to others. Make no mistake: This crew, Sessions’ brain trust on reefer, are firebrand zealots. They may all have different reasons for hating and fearing legal cannabis, but hate it they do, and with an uncommon passion that sees them willingly compromise their intellectual integrity in order to justify it.
If our civilization survives, Donald Trump will go down in history for his cheerful willingness to put grossly unqualified people in key positions. After all, to fight ISIS and broker peace in the Middle East, the president deployed to Iraq a J. Crew catalog with a vacant stare.
For this reason, it’s possible that Jeff Sessions is just a rube, a wide-eyed dupe, the innocent victim of an organized razzle-dazzle.
We don’t think so.
He knows what he’s doing. There’s a certain calculating blitheness about a guy who spent much of his career denying black people the right to vote and then giving himself a fake NAACP award. Sessions surely knows that cannabis presents little credible threat to the American people, just as he knows there’s no vast crime wave engulfing American cities. He just doesn’t care. That would get in the way of his narrative.