by Kate Harveston
At a time when it seems the GOP can’t agree on anything, they also can’t agree on marijuana laws. With the cacophony of crises and scandals swirling around Washington, you would be correct to think that how Americans use pot should be a rather low-priority issue for the Trump Administration right now.
However, without much else to hang his hat on, attorney general Jeff Sessions is lashing out at policy many Americans thought we had put to bed during the Obama administration. Perhaps he believes that pot is the one place he can find a victory to tout, even if it’s only a victory for the most right-leaning of conservatives.
Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Smoke
States like California, Colorado and Washington are highly populated and generally liberal. They've received a lot of media coverage for steadily marching toward fully legalized marijuana, but they remain the minority.
About half of the country has yet to decriminalize weed. That means federal statutes to allow the prosecution of anyone in possession of the drug will go unchallenged by states’ rights. However, progress toward decriminalization and legalization is picking up pace in places like Maine and New York.
Fueling the movement for full-blown legalization is the Obama-era doctrine that disallows the use of federal money to pursue individuals involved in marijuana-related crimes. But despite shifting sands in the Republican Party, Jeff Sessions feels there's still time to wind the watch back on legal pot use.
Remember the Cole Memo
Central to Sessions’ advance against marijuana legalization is the repeal of a memorandum published during Obama’s second term which protects banking institutions from potential harm that might befall them when dealing with marijuana businesses in states that have legalized some form of the drug.
The memo explicitly names the types of cases that federal prosecutors can give precedence to. Rather than attacking legal businesses that sell marijuana within the letter of state law, it instead concentrates on instances where criminal organizations are using the drug to facilitate additional malicious operations.
While language from Obama’s speeches might have hinted at it before the memo was drafted, attorney general James M. Cole made it official when the memo became law in 2013. Even Donald Trump seemed to take a non-aggressive position on the matter when asked about it during his campaign. But so far, Sessions has gone unchecked in his efforts.
Up in Smoke
With the repeal of the watershed memo, it is once again open season on all marijuana traffic — no matter what state laws say — for federal prosecutors. Whether they will choose to act is a valid question, but many veterans of Bush-era dispensary raids aren’t hedging their bets. Business owners have moved their money out of federal banks, with many choosing to use Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that are popular as-of-late.
It’s a move that has received support from uber-conservative groups, but Republican views toward legal weed are evolving faster than their views on nearly any other controversial matter. While there’s not currently enough support to stop Sessions in his war on marijuana, some question just how long the decision will stand.
The question one must ask when evaluating the state of Republican efforts to re-criminalize marijuana is, why? And why now? Nearly half of the country has shown support for this movement, and even with Sessions doing his best to undermine it, there doesn't seem to be any signs of slowing momentum.
Could it be that with all the negative press he’s getting, the attorney general just wants something he can check off as a win?
Sessions’ relationship with president Trump is famously bad. He’s recused himself of the Russia investigation that will go down in history as the defining narrative of this presidency, and Saturday Night Live has had no challenge in likening him to a possum who lives inside of a White House grandfather clock. The man isn’t winning any popularity contests.
And so, like Trump has done when things get scary, Sessions is recoiling into what he knows: appeasing his base — shrinking though they might be — with the only low-hanging fruit he can find.
It’s too bad for him. It sounds like the guy could use a toke.