In the United States, we are used to angry old white men complaining about things, and one of their pet peeves is marijuana consumption. Perhaps they are scarred by the era of Free Love in the 1960s, where hippies smoked pot and cast their inhibitions loose. Meanwhile, these same angry men were cast aside by girls who preferred ‘longhairs’ that smoked freely and spoke about the astral plane.
The problem is, Jeff Sessions is not your average angry old white guy. He is the Attorney General of the United States, which makes him the top prosecutor in the land. Sessions absolutely hates weed and, given his position, this is a HUGE problem for the marijuana industry.
Who is Jeff Sessions?
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was born in Selma, Alabama in 1946 and has had a distinguished political career – at least in terms of positions held rather than actual achievements. Sessions reached the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army and became the U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s Southern District in February 1981. He was the Attorney General of Alabama from 1995 to 1997 and was then elected as a United States Senator for his home state. Sessions held that office until February 2017, when President Donald Trump chose him as Attorney General of the United States.
Sessions was nominated by President Reagan for the role of federal judge in 1986, but was rejected because he was allegedly guilty of racial insensitivity and prejudice. His supporters point out that Sessions played a key role in the conviction of two KKK members who murdered Michael Donald in Alabama in 1981. However, there are numerous allegations of corruption and racial prejudice, and Sessions has a wretched Senate voting record on issues involving Civil Rights. Here are some of his Senate votes:
- Voted YES to end special funding for businesses owned by women and minorities.
- Voted NO on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
- Voted NO on a Bill designed to set aside 10% of highway funds for women and minorities.
- Received a 7% rating by the NAACP and a 20% rating from the ACLU.
Sessions is also hysterically anti-drug (not alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals obviously) and he voted YES to increase penalties for drug offenses in November 1999. Since he became the Attorney General, Sessions has outlined his desire to crack down drugs in what has been called a ‘new war on marijuana’. Everyone knows that the Trump Administration’s primary goal is to rescind as much Obama Administration legislation as possible, which is why Sessions’ move against the Cole Memo shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Sessions & The Cole Memo
When voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize weed for adults, both states began to tread a path that contravened federal law. Remember, marijuana is illegal on a federal level since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and has been a Schedule I substance as part of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The new state laws on weed caused legal confusion and state attorneys began seeking guidance from their federal counterparts.
On August 29, 2013, a memorandum from James Cole, the Attorney General at the time, was published via the Department of Justice. It effectively ‘softened’ the federal government’s stance on weed and said that federal law should only focus on preventing the following:
- Diversion of weed from legal to ‘illegal’ states.
- Selling marijuana to minors.
- Revenue of cannabis sales going to criminal gangs.
- The use of marijuana sale to cover up the sale of other illegal narcotics.
- Driving under the influence of weed.
- Using the herb on federal property.
- The use of violence and firearms in the cultivation and distribution of weed.
- The growing of marijuana on public land.
The Cole Memo, as it became known, made a lot of sense, and growers and users of marijuana in states where it was legal no longer had to look over their shoulder and worry about the federal government.
Then Sessions came along and rescinded the Cole Memo in January 2018. In a single stroke, Sessions transformed the industry for the worse and, once again, users and growers are worried that the federal government may come along and arrest everyone for using marijuana. It doesn’t matter if you use it in a state where it is okay for recreational use or if you have an MMJ Card.
If Sessions has his way, you will be severely punished, although we have not yet reached the stage where FDA agents will break down your door and arrest you for possession of an ounce. However, it does mean that federal law enforcement can once again use their discretion to raid marijuana-growing businesses in states where it is legal. Federal prosecutors can also legally punish such enterprises.
Why is Sessions So Anti-Marijuana?
Given his background and career, it is hardly a surprise that Sessions is against marijuana. He was born and raised in Alabama, a state where possession of any amount of weed is a misdemeanor which could land you in prison for a year. Sale of any amount is a felony punishable by up to 20 years’ incarceration. Sessions is an old-school, strait-laced, God-fearing individual who probably harbors deep-seated racial prejudice and is overwhelmingly anti-abortion.
If you didn’t know Sessions but someone described his life story, you would just assume he was anti-weed. His hatred of marijuana goes back decades, and he once said that he thought the KKK were alright until he found out they used cannabis. It’s okay to be white supremacists and engage in race-hate crime, but smoke a joint and you’re the devil according to ol’ Jefferson. He claims it was a joke, but no one believes him.
However, we are talking about American politics here, so it is naïve in the extreme to take his anti-marijuana stance at face value. There simply has to be an ulterior motive, and a few theories are doing the rounds. Perhaps the most pertinent is Sessions’ links with the private prison industry. He has shares in a pair of mutual funds which include holdings in a couple of private prison companies. Further research shows that these shares only make up a fraction of his investment, so Beauregard doesn’t make a fortune from private prisons alone.
Even so, Sessions has played a significant role in expanding the sector, and the Trump Administration’s first year was one of the best for private prisons with stock prices booming. Sessions is in favor of jailing people for minor drug offenses, which is a godsend for the prison industry. In February 2017, he overturned the Department of Justice’s position (under the Obama Administration) of no longer contracting with private prisons.
Perhaps there is a more sinister motive. Remember, Sessions is widely believed to hold racist views. As recently as November 2017, Sessions was accused of a ‘double standard’ by focusing on punishing black activists while ignoring crimes committed by white supremacists. Sessions claimed that he was targeting black activists because they attack law enforcement. However, between 2001 and 2016, white supremacists have murdered 34 police officers. It is also worth remembering that he comes from Selma, Alabama, a place notorious for crimes against African-Americans during the Civil Rights era.
Is Sessions keen to punish marijuana users in a bid to punish African-Americans? As things stand, black people are over three times as likely on average to be arrested for marijuana possession. In certain states, African-Americans are almost ten times more likely to be punished for weed possession than whites. Is Sessions hoping to target black people even more by toughening anti-cannabis laws, or is this merely a coincidence?
Final Thoughts on Jeff Sessions & His Anti-Marijuana Agenda
The only good news we can offer you is that there may be a political and public backlash against Sessions’ war on legal marijuana. A Gallup survey in 2017 found that 64% of Americans are now in favor of legalizing weed across the nation. Had Sessions brought his anachronistic attitude towards cannabis with him around a decade ago, he would have had far more support, as only 36% of people believed marijuana should be legalized in 2007.
Even Republicans are no longer guaranteed to back Sessions in his mad quest. 51% of Republican voters think weed should be legalized, and notable members of his party are also against his plan. California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was quoted as saying: “I think Jeff Sessions has forgotten about the constitution and the tenth amendment.”
While Republicans in anti-marijuana strongholds will back Sessions, those who reside in states such as California and Colorado, where cannabis is legal for recreational use, will oppose him. The precise reasons behind his goal to destroy the marijuana industry are unclear, but it’s very likely that Sessions will fail.