What Jeff Sessions’ Departure Means For Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 11/16/18

Sessions’ departure has left some people wondering if President Trump may change his stance on marijuana legalization.

Jeff Sessions, a noted marijuana opponent, resigned from his post as attorney general weeks ago

When President Trump demanded the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week many people were alarmed, but proponents for marijuana legalization saw Sessions’ departure as good news.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Andrew Jolley, president of the Nevada Dispensary Association, told the Las Vegas Sun

Sessions was staunchly against cannabis, having famously said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” During his tenure as attorney general he repealed the Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that acknowledged the Justice Department’s limited resources and instructed U.S. Attorneys to avoid prosecution in areas where marijuana was legal in some form, according to Forbes.

Despite his tough stance, Sessions was not able to do much to target the cannabis industry because of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, an amendment to the federal budget that specifically bars the Justice Department from spending money to enforce a ban on medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

Following Sessions’ resignation on Wednesday morning, stocks in cannabis companies soared, with the marijuana index rising nearly 14% in two hours, according to Newsweek

Sessions’ departure left some people wondering if President Trump would change his stance on marijuana, perhaps even removing the drug from the list of Schedule I substances with no medical benefit.

“I think he’s waiting for after the midterms,” Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director, recently said.

During the midterms, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational cannabis, and medical marijuana programs were established in Utah and Missouri. In addition, polling shows that two-thirds of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—support legalizing marijuana. 

Sessions was replaced by his former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker. Although it’s not clear what Whitaker’s stance on marijuana is, during his time as a U.S. Attorney in Iowa, he worked to “reduce the availability of meth, cocaine, and marijuana in our communities,” according to his resignation letter from 2009.

In 2014 when Whitaker was running to represent Iowa in the Senate, he said that he sympathized with people who received relief from cannabidiol (CBD), and supported states' CBD-only medical marijuana laws. 

“Families are going to be positively impacted by what happened in the state Senate,” he said. “And I applaud them for helping those families who need that help.”

However, he added that the state should not establish a medical marijuana program while cannabis remained illegal under federal law. When he was asked whether Congress should legalize marijuana, Whitaker’s opinion wasn’t very clear.

He said that the federal government “should regulate things that harm people,” like “hard drugs and the like,” but didn’t say whether he thought marijuana fit that description. However, he did talk about the dangers of a black market cannabis trade.

“I saw the impact of marijuana on our border,” he said. “If you go to any of the counties in Texas where there’s an illegal importation of marijuana, there’s a tremendous amount of violence.”

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