Reading Jeff Sessions is easy. A sophisticated actor our attorney general is not, as his bewildered and buffaloed performances in front of Senate committees showed in painful clarity.
Peer only perfunctorily into the pale beads lighting from Klan Gollum’s skull, stuck there like marbles in a racist snowman, and behold. Authoritarian with antebellum values. Prosecutor with a pliant sense of justice, for whom the War on Drugs is a handy tool to fill prisons with people of color, who then can’t vote. A mendacious operator with wild ideas, long since tuned out by his more serious coworkers in the Senate, surpassing them now thanks only to a political acumen entirely reliant on his early endorsement of a fellow alt-right friendly traveler, then and now the worst of a bad lot—who, on top of it all, is also quite possibly a Russian asset.
(Just for fun, let’s remember that Sessions appears to have, judging by all rational inquiry, given himself a fake NAACP award, a bizarre example of his character lost in the fog of 2017.)
We know the man, and we know what he wants. He thinks about all the bad things he’s going to do to marijuana legalization as often as most men think about sex.
What’s much harder to unpack is what, exactly, he plans to do first, when and where he’s going to do it—and what’s holding him back.
The past 10 days contain all of Sessions’ multitudes. Yes—both of them.
Shouted into the void on Nov. 17, the Friday before Thanksgiving, a perfect black hole for any news, was a directive barring the Justice Department from releasing memos that, in a phrase, do anything or have any impact.
This would seem to include any issue like the Cole Memo, the nonbinding bit of Obama-era policy all marijuana entrepreneurs show to their landlords and investors as proof that they’re a safe bet and not at all bait for DEA agents. The Cole Memo was “guidance” giving federal prosecutors an excuse not to pursue action against state-legal cannabis producers.
“This Department of Justice will not use guidance documents to circumvent the rulemaking process, and we will proactively work to rescind existing guidance documents that go too far,” said Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, whose job it is to review past memos and find ones to nominate for “repeal or modification.”
Does that include the Cole Memo?
As Marijuana Moment’s Tom Angell wrote, almost certainly, but nobody aside from Sessions and his top lieutenants can be really sure. Sessions’ meaning and intent are clear—his plan and his execution, not so much.
Justice Department officials met on Tuesday, Sessions told reporters during a Wednesday press briefing on the opiate crisis, and marijuana policy was on the table—specifically, the Cole Memo.
How was it carved, and when’s it going out on a platter? Mum’s the word.
“We’ll be working our way through to a rational policy,” he said, moments after declaring cannabis, available as medicine to more than half of Americans, a detriment that’s illegal and subject to enforcement at any time—a stance he then repeated for effect.
Let’s forget for a second that the federal government cannot have a “rational policy” on cannabis, a plant with undeniable and accepted medical value, as long as it’s officially designated more addictive than methamphetamine, less useful to sick people than cocaine, and more dangerous than the very same fentanyl and OxyContin fueling the opiate crisis’ ghastly body count.
Though Sessions still feels handcuffed by Congress, who have thus far rebuffed Sessions’ begging to rescind a budget rider keeping him away from medical marijuana, he has all the legal means he needs to start cracking down on recreational cannabis. And, as US News put it, this latest public utterance is the loudest broadside yet shot across legal cannabis’s bow.
So what’s stopping him?
There’s a full lineup of likely suspects—two, in fact. They are Sessions himself, and the orange man in the red hat who brought him here.
The can of brain worms taking up space in the Oval Office kind-of, sort-of promised to leave weed alone on the campaign trail, sure, but this is the same guy who accused Joe Scarborough of murder, with an ability to create his own reality rivaling Homer Simpson’s.
Donald Trump’s words are worth what Twitter pays for its content. That doesn’t matter—but the fact that Trump probably still wants Jeff Sessions to go away, and that a crackdown on weed would make an unpopular president even more unpopular, and within his own party, have to matter somewhere in the White House.
Nobody aside from Sessions and a few die-hards want to spend their limited political capital on weed—not even the Nazis in the White House.
But for now, Sessions—thanks to his ties with Russia, and his Rachel Dolezal-worthy attempts at convincing us those ties don’t exist—remains his own worst enemy.
At this point, with eight states having legalized marijuana and more to come next year, even a limited marijuana crackdown is, in effect, a war. Waging a war requires an army that Sessions does not have.
Sessions has yet to appoint full-time U.S. attorneys in multiple key districts, including in California, where cannabis will be sold over-the-counter beginning January 1.
He does not have enough DEA agents to make a dent in a multibillion-dollar industry. And he lacks the clout to convince local authorities to go along with him—even when dangling the prospect of cash from civil asset forfeiture in front of their faces.
Much of this is thanks to Trump-Russia.
The consensus appears to be that as long as his role in Russia’s role in the 2016 election is at play, Sessions’ hands are tied.
Even if Russia goes away, Sessions has a list of other priorities.
Illegal immigrants. Expanded policing powers and undoing police reforms. Running a domestic Gestapo to round up terrorist suspects.
More than anyone else, Vladimir Putin deserves cannabis’s Christmas cards, for creating the web that’s keeping Jeff Sessions at arm’s length from legal marijuana—more than anyone, that is, except Sessions himself.