January 11, 2017
The murky legal situation between the federal government and states that have approved cannabis in some form was not made any clearer Tuesday when U.S. attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions dodged questions about his planned approach to the issue.
During Day One of his confirmation hearing, Sessions – the Alabama senator who has been picked for AG by President-elect Donald Trump – took a middle-of-the-road approach to states’ cannabis laws and said he “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law” when asked about his approach to medical marijuana statutes.
But he added: “It’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”
Sessions did say that some of the guidelines in the 2013 Cole Memo were “truly valuable,” but he left open a window for possible future enforcement and said those guidelines “may not have been followed.”
Sessions continued: “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession (of marijuana) in every state and distribution an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule – it is not the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”
Bob Capecchi, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of federal policies, said in a news release that Sessions “was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach and he passed on it.”
Capecchi also said it was “promising” that Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, noted during an interview Tuesday that Sessions will be carrying out Trump’s agenda on cannabis instead of making his own policy.
“When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda you’re implementing and not your own,” Spicer told Fox News. “I think Sen. Sessions is well aware of that.”
Capecchi noted that Trump has said cannabis should be a states’ rights issue, meaning it’s possible his administration will leave marijuana policy up to the states and a Sessions-led Department of Justice will remain on the sideline.
MPP remains “cautiously optimistic,” Capecchi said.
Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director, wrote: “So, after finally being put on the spot and questioned on the issue, we are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions’ plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday.”