During his confirmation for the position of Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions failed to give a straight answer with regard to how the Justice Department should respond to states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.
The Alabama Senator was questioned by both Sens. Leahy (D-VT) and Lee (R-UT) with respect to whether the principles of federalism ought to apply to state marijuana laws.
Senator Leahy: “Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people using marijuana in accordance with state law even though it might violate federal law?”
Senator Sessions: “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy, but absolutely it is a problem of resources for the federal government. The Department of Justice under Lynch and Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion marijuana, some parts of marijuana.”
Senator Leahy: “Do you agree with those guidelines?”
Senator Sessions: “I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases, but fundamentally the criticism I think that is legitimate is that they may not have been followed. Using good judgment on how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine I know it wont be an easy decision but i will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”
Senator Leahy: “The reason I mention this, is because you have some very strong views, you even mandated the death penalty for second offense on drug trafficking, including marijuana, even though mandatory death penalties are of course unconstitutional.”
Senator Sessions: “Well I’m not sure under what circumstances i said that, but I don’t think…”
Senator Leahy: “Would you say it‘s not your view today?”
Senator Sessions: “(laughs) It is not my view today.”
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) followed up with questions regarding how marijuana policy factors into federalism and asked if the way the Obama Administration has handled marijuana laws created any issues with separation of powers and states rights. Sessions replied that, “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession 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.”
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. If anything, his comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states. If Sessions wants to be an Attorney General for ALL Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention.
Clearly, the battle is just beginning to protect state legalization and medical marijuana laws. Can you contribute today to help us keep up our federal political actions and advance our efforts for state-level law reform?