Enumerating the vulnerable Americans threatened by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is like running the guest list for formal dinners aboard Noah’s Ark—almost everybody’s invited. Based on the attorney general nominee’s record, racial minorities, women seeking an abortion, survivors of sexual assault and many others all have something to fear from the U.S. Justice Department.
Aware of this, even if protesters in Klan hoods hadn’t crashed his confirmation hearings, the Alabama senator put on a smooth conciliatory show, assuring his detractors, one-by-one, that he would respect peoples’ rights and not use the Justice Department to carry out Donald Trump’s personal Twitter vendettas. It all sounded nice—so nice that the Washington Post wondered aloud if it was all a calculated act.
Marijuana falls below voting, racial and reproductive rights as a priority for most Americans. But it may yet become a new focus for a Sessions Justice Department—we just have absolutely no idea, and Sessions deftly and slyly avoided providing one.
On weed, Sessions managed a particularly slick two-step. Answering questions from Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sessions stated the obvious: marijuana remains illegal thanks to an act of Congress, and as attorney general, it’s his job to enforce the laws of the land. If Americans don’t like the laws, he added, they should convince their representatives in Congress to do something about it.
“The U.S. Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state—and the distribution—an illegal act,” Sessions said last week. “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule.”
Reaction from marijuana advocates was mixed, as is often the case when someone is asked to react to nothing and guess blindly at what that nothing means. Some were thrilled that Sessions didn’t use his confirmation hearing to declare all-out war on marijuana and put an end to the widening experiment of states allowing adults to use cannabis legally. Others noted that he didn’t say much of anything at all. That’s not entirely true, but it highlights the problem.
What Sessions did say was deliberately disingenuous.
Americans absolutely want Congress to change the country’s outdated, punitive and politically motivated marijuana laws. They are on record saying this, clearly and without question, in every major poll and at the ballot box. In November, red state and blue state alike voted to relax marijuana prohibition or end it outright. States that helped elect Donald Trump, the man who picked Sessions to give the DEA its marching orders, also voted to allow their citizens easier access to cannabis.
So, about Congress.
They know where the people stand. Give at least some members of one of America’s most despised organization some credit: They’ve tried to do exactly what Sessions described. Bills to allow marijuana businesses to bank, to conduct business following state law and to outright legalize marijuana have all been introduced in Congress. And with few exceptions, none of these bills has ever been called for a committee hearing, effectively killing them before they were ever seriously considered.
That’s Congress, a body that still includes Sessions, the same guy who declared last spring that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” to no discernible outcry from his fellow travelers in that august hall. They know what the people want done on weed, but until someone forces them to do something about it, they can’t be brought to care.
Thus, the status quo remains. Weed remains illegal, and the Justice Department remains able to shut it all down, should Jeff Sessions suddenly feel the desire.
Don’t be fooled by his quiet and dignified vaudeville act: Jeff Sessions is a drug warrior. He’s made no secret his favor for stiff sentences and mandatory minimums. Last week, he expressly reserved his right to apply them, in the manner and time of his choosing.
It’s too late to shut down America’s widening experiment with ending outright marijuana prohibition, but it’s not too late to stand in the way and arbitrarily take out select actors here and there while doing it. Sessions is a smiling, coy threat. Neutralizing him may be a bigger job than Congress, or anyone aside from the president-elect himself, is equipped to do.
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