DOJ Appointments Being Blocked Until Sessions Changes Pot Stance

By Kelly Burch 02/09/18

A Republican senator from Colorado is taking a major stand against Session for making marijuana a federal priority.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

In protest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind an Obama-era policy that recommended federal prosecutors stay out of the affairs of states that have legalized marijuana, Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner is blocking appointments to the Department of Justice. 

“[Gardner] opposed the legalization of marijuana in 2012 but is not going to sit back and let Colorado’s rights be trampled on by the federal government,” Casey Contres, a Gardner spokesman, said in a statement according to The Denver Post

Gardner announced his intention on January 4, the same day that Sessions said that the federal government would “return to the rule of law” and enforce the federal prohibition of marijuana even in states that have legalized cannabis. Since Colorado has a legal marketplace for adult use, Gardner said that federal enforcement could threaten the state’s economy. 

Sessions’ stance “has trampled on the will of the voters,” Gardner tweeted at the time. 

“Before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this administration,” Gardner said in a statement on January 4. “In 2016, President Trump said marijuana legalization should be left up to the states and I agree.”

In the month since it took effect, Gardner’s vow to slow appointments has prevented 11 nominees from getting Senate hearings. Those include federal marshals and U.S. attorneys. 

“Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation as a whole and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Policy differences should be worked out by a dialogue and not turn into hostage situations.”

Gardner and Sessions met in January to discuss ending the standoff, but they could not reach a middle ground. 

“Our staff and DOJ staff continue to talk and meet to discuss a path forward which recognizes Colorado’s state’s rights and ensures law enforcement has the authority and tools needed to protect our communities,” Contres said. “These discussions continue to be necessary and we appreciate their willingness to have them.”

There are ways for the Senate to override Gardner’s blockage, but they take up a lot of procedural time, The Denver Post reported. 

Although the policy change from Sessions has not led to any federal raids of legal dispensaries, it could in theory. Since it is unlikely that federal marijuana law will change under the Trump administration, some people believe the best way forward would be to bar the Department of Justice from using federal funds to go after recreational operations in states that have legalized marijuana. A similar budget restriction is already in place regarding medical marijuana. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.