Jeff Sessions Provides Answers – Sort of – To Marijuana Questions from Senate Committee

By Paul Gaita 01/26/17

During his lengthy confirmation hearing, Sessions was taken to task on a variety of issues including his stance on marijuana. 

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As Democrats push for more time before voting on the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General under Donald Trump, his answers to numerous questions posed by the Senate Judiciary Committee have been made available in written form to the public.

Among the many questions posed to Sessions during his hearing were several that specifically addressed his stance on marijuana legalization. Sessions famously stated before a Senate drug hearing in April 2016 that the federal government should stand behind the opinion that "this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it … and to send that message with clarity that good people don't smoke marijuana."

Sessions addressed that comment before the committee, where he said that his words "have been grossly mischaracterized and taken out of context … I was discussing the value of treating people for using dangerous and illegal drugs like marijuana, and the context in which treatment is successful."

In regard to the broader issue of treatment, Sessions said that he would "defer to the American Medical Association and the researchers at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere about the medical effects of marijuana. Without having studied the relevant regulations in depth, I cannot say whether they may need to be eased in order to advance research; but, I will review this."

The American Medical Association has taken a largely negative stance towards marijuana, which it describes as a "dangerous drug," but has also called for greater research into its medical efficacy and for federal lawmakers to ease restrictions on carrying that out.  

Sessions adopted a similar wait-and-see attitude towards the issue of legalization as a whole. "I echo Attorney General [Loretta] Lynch's comments, and commit, as she did, to enforcing federal law with respect to marijuana, although the exact balance of enforcement priorities is an ever-changing determination based on the circumstances and the resources available at the time."

Attorney General Lynch has opposed the legal sale of marijuana, but also stated that she does not believe that it is a "gateway drug" to more harmful substances, and voiced support for states' rights in regard to making their own cannabis laws.

In regard to the Justice Department's policies on investigating and prosecuting marijuana cases, Sessions was again vague. "I will not commit to never enforcing federal law," he noted. "Whether an arrest and investigation of an individual who may be violating the law is appropriate is a determination made in individual cases based on the sometimes unique circumstances surrounding those cases, as well as the resources available at the time."

Prosecuting individuals who are in compliance with state medical laws is "an emerging issue [and] one that will need to be closely evaluated in light of all relevant law and facts." Sessions promised to conduct such a review, adding that "medical marijuana use is a small part of the growing commercial marijuana industry."

As with many of President Trump's statements on the direction of his government, and the comments from his nominees, Senator Sessions has given answers that may leave marijuana advocates and the medical marijuana industry in an anxious state.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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