Former AG Eric Holder: Sessions Has An Obsession With Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 10/18/17

The Obama-era attorney general believes that Sessions' focus on pot has put the Justice Department in a "strange place."

Former Attorney General Eric Holder
Former Attorney General Eric Holder

Eric Holder, the former attorney general under President Obama who took steps to reduce mandatory sentencing and rein in the War on Drugs, says that Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has an “obsession” with marijuana. 

The remarks came as Holder was discussing the Cole Memo, a 2013 statement from then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole that says the federal government will not interfere in the marijuana laws of states that have legalized it. (Of course, the details are a bit more complicated than that. Read more here.)

Holder said that the Cole Memo outlines a policy that should be upheld. 

"I think that was a really good policy," Holder said, according to The Washington Examiner. "Sessions' almost obsession with marijuana I think is the thing that's put the Justice Department in this strange place.”

The Cole Memo outlines standards that states must meet to avoid federal intervention, including prohibiting the sale of marijuana to minors and preventing funding from going to criminal enterprises. 

"I think the policy we had in place was a good one: Let the states experiment with the notion that again we have these eight or nine federal factors and if you trigger one of these eight or nine factors the feds are going to be coming in,” Holder said. 

Since taking office, Sessions has been focused on marijuana as a driving force of many of the country’s problems. 

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” he said in February. Over the summer it was revealed that he had asked Congress to remove a budget amendment that prevents the Department of Justice from using federal funds to go after states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote in a letter to Congress. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Despite his efforts, the amendment was upheld. However, it will be up for debate each time Congress authorizes a new federal budget, a fact that makes many people nervous about how marijuana enforcement will be shaped under Sessions. 

Although Holder was seen as more liberal, some marijuana proponents say that the Attorney General shouldn’t criticize Sessions when he could have changed the federal ban on marijuana when he was in office. 

"Eric Holder could have rescheduled marijuana while in office but didn’t," cannabis reform advocate Tom Angell tweeted in response to Holder’s comments. 

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