President-elect Donald Trump‘s transition team announced Nov. 18 that Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has been chosen to be attorney general. The Republican former US attorney was the first senator to throw his support behind Trump’s presidential bid, and he later worked with the candidate to craft his policies on immigration and counter-terrorism.
Sessions must face a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where his past inflammatory remarks concerning race and his support for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants may stir opposition. Still, he should be confirmed, as Republicans will likely have a 52-48 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.
The Washington Post notes that Sessions is an outspoken opponent of cannabis legalization, and his elevation to attorney general could deal a blow to state legalization policies across the country. At a Senate drug hearing in April, Sessions said that “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.” He even said the hearing had been called to drive home that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“I think one of [Obama’s] great failures, it’s obvious to me, is his lax treatment in comments on marijuana,” Sessions pronounced at the hearing. “It reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs that began really when Nancy Reagan started ‘Just Say No.'”
Some are clearly worried. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes told KIRO TV: “Now we have a different federal law enforcement apparatus that is entering government as of January 21 next year and they have the discretion to enforce or not enforce federal law.” Holmes held out some hope. “I would like to think that the Trump administration would honor some of the things that were said on the campaign trail like that it should be left up to the states.” But the appointment of Sessions clearly tilts the scales away from that possibility.
Among other things, Sessions has a checkered history when it comes to race relations. His most notorious utterance was one to the effect that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” CNN reports that the statement was made in relation to a case he handled as an Alabama federal prosecutor in the ’80s—concerning a young black man who had been kidnapped and brutally murdered by two members of the Klan. The Klansmen (reportedly high on pot) slit the victim’s throat and hung his body from a tree—apparently in retribution for the acquittal of another African American man in the slaying of a white police officer. So even if Sessions was joking, that’s a hell of a thing to joke about. The comment cost him his appointment to a federal judgeship in 1986.
Some are making optimistic assessments that Trump can’t stop legalization—because the feds can’t force states to arrest people for cannabis offenses. Which is true. But we could see aggressive DEA raids on dispensaries, and other federal harassment and repression, which would put a damper on activities everywhere.
KIRO quotes Logan Bowers of Seattle’s Hashtag Cannabis retail outlet saying: “I’m definitely concerned. I think we have to keep our eye on it.” Bowers said one of his biggest worries is that threats of a federal crackdown will scare the banks away, just as the cannabis industry is finally gaining access to financial services.
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