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Is Anti-Weed Attorney General Jeff Sessions “More Bark than Bite”?

3 minute Read

Things are heating up at the federal level in regard to marijuana.

“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated at Monday’s press conference at the Department of Justice. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.” States can do what they want with marijuana, he continued, but he warned that in doing so, they’re violating federal law.

Then on Tuesday morning in a speech to state attorney generals, Sessions added, “I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every grocery store.”

Alternative fact alert: no states actually allow this.

“Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse? Give me a break,” Sessions went on. “This is the kind of argument that has been made out there. It’s almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove me wrong. But at this point in time you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgement, that which we’ve learned over a period of years, and speak the truth as best we can.”

Alternative fact alert, again: Science did prove him wrong. In states that have legalized medical marijuana, there are far fewer opiate overdoses than in states that haven’t. Cannabis is a nonlethal alternative to heavy pain medications that patients often get addicted to or abuse.

It’s still unclear how exactly the Justice Department will proceed in going after states that legalized adult use or medical marijuana. Cannabis industry players and policy folk have varied reactions, some entertaining the worst case scenario, while others expecting the administration’s threats not to pan out. Nonetheless, many are upset about Sessions’ most recent inaccurate claims.

“Attorney General Sessions’ latest comments are completely fictitious, they describe a reality that only exists in the world of alternative facts,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Marijuana legalization has not lead to increased violence, but rather has lowered youth use rates, increased tax revenue, and fewer arrests of otherwise law abiding American citizens.”

In fact, in talking about marijuana and violence, Sessions inadvertently expressed the strongest argument for legalization, Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority pointed out. “The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits on the black market,” he said.

“If the attorney general really cares about public health and safety, he’ll stop relying on ‘alternative facts’ to prop up an outdated ‘reefer madness’ view of marijuana,” Angell added. “This administration should respect science and, at the very least, needs to uphold the president’s repeated campaign pledges to respect state cannabis laws.”

The industry can only “sit and wait” to see what happens, says Serge Chistov, financial and business advisor to Honest Marijuana, a Colorado growery and manufacturer, but he thinks Sessions’ comments have “more bark than bite.”

“He’s picking a fight that I don’t believe he can win, or at least it will be a fight that’s very messy and won’t be taken lightly from the standpoint of the liberal media, supporters of the {state cannabis} legislation, and of the movement,” he says. Regardless of Sessions’ threats, Chistov says the movement will continue to grow.

Others in the cannabis industry were equally unphased. With Trump’s pro-business approach, it seems unlikely the Justice Department would spend resources going after marijuana operations that support jobs and state taxes, says Frank Lane, president of CFN Media, a cannabis creative agency. “But, this is definitely going to shake the cannabis markets and cause some slow to their business pursuits,” he says.

For decades, the cannabis industry has worked around legal grey area in states like California, remaining cautious of federal crackdown while nonetheless continuing to flourish. “We are encouraging our members and the industry to continue abiding by state regulations as the best approach for protection under the state,” Ben Bradley, operations director for the California Cannabis Industry Association, tells Jane Street. As states like California come to enact regulations for industry players to abide by, it will be easier for them to prove compliance later on if the feds take a hardline approach.

If the feds do take action enforcing federal law, Bradley suggests they may focus more on diversion of cannabis outside regulated states, rather than target state compliant operations. Besides, he adds, states are increasingly showing defiance to federal policy. California, for instance, has a bill pending the legislature that would disallow state agencies from cooperating with federal agents in weed busts.

“We are looking at {Sessions’} value of states’ rights to self govern, and we predict it will supercede the negative stance on cannabis. As well, we do not see the financial resources available to enforce a full ‘crackdown’ on all states with regulations.”

In fact, Alan Brochstein, founder of 420 Investor, goes so far as to suggest Sessions may actually do good by the cannabis industry. “Sessions may be an enemy of the plant, but I think he could become the industry’s best friend,” he says. The tenuous discrepancy between federal and state law leads to the conclusion that Congress needs to act, Brochstein says. “While I’m not suggesting that Sessions would play a role in rational regulation from the federal level, his anti-cannabis beliefs and potentially his enforcement actions could catalyze Congress to finally own up to its responsibility.”

Is Anti-Weed Attorney General Jeff Sessions “More Bark than Bite”?