Senator Jeff Sessions is about to become the head of national law enforcement as President-elect Trump’s pick for Attorney General. At his confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., his peers had the opportunity to ask the Alabama Republican about his stance on cannabis.
It’s unclear whether Sessions would prosecute federal marijuana cases in states that have legalized it, however, he did acknowledge the limited resources of federal agencies.
“If you are confirmed as a nation’s chief law enforcement official,” asked Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “…would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people who are using marijuana in accordance with their state laws, even though it might violate federal law?”
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy,” Senator Sessions responded.
When pressed by Leahy about a previous anti-cannabis mandate by Sessions, the nominee sidestepped the issue.
Leahy asked if it was still his opinion that anyone with a second drug traffic offense, including marijuana, should face the death penalty.
“It doesn’t sound like something I would normally say,” said Sessions, adding that it’s not his view today.
‘Just say no’
“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” said the southern Republican at the 2016 Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control meeting on the state of recreational marijuana.
Session’s anti-cannabis stance is rooted in the Reagans’(failed) War on Drugs.
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“I think one of [Obama’s] great failures,” Sen. Sessions continued at the caucus meeting, “it’s been obvious to me, is his lax treatment and comments on marijuana. It reverses twenty years…of hostility towards drugs begun when Nancy Reagan started the ‘Just Say No’ program.”
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“This is as obvious as night following day, you make more marijuana more available you basically say it’s not very dangerous and that young people have a right to participate with it and us older people do too, you’re going to have more problems,” said Sen. Sessions in his anti-pot rant.
Sen. Leahy is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the only remaining member in Congress who voted against Sessions’ federal judgeship in 1986. The nomination hullabaloo kicked up some of his dirty laundry, as many accused him of racism.
Three decades later, Sessions is up for Attorney General, and Leahy said he deserves a fair shot.
“Senator Sessions and I have had significant disagreements over the years, particularly on civil rights, voting rights, immigration and criminal justice issues. But unlike Republicans’ practice of unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s nominees, I believe nominees deserve a full and fair process before the Senate. The American people deserve to learn about Senator Sessions’ record at the public Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.”
“I look forward to seeing how Sessions will transition from voting on policies, to enforcing them,” said Sen. Leahy in his opening remarks at this week’s confirmation hearing.
Leahy: You long been a champion of state’s rights and certainly you and I have had enough discussions on that and I realize those are deeply held beliefs, but states have also voted on an issue of marijuana and regulation. I believe your own state of Alabama permits the use of a derivative of marijuana known as CBD oil. Legal in Alabama, illegal under federal law. If you are confirmed as a nation’s chief law enforcement official and you know that you have very, very limited federal resources. In fact, we’re spending about a third our budget now just to keep the prisons open because of mandatory minimums and whatnot, would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people who are using marijuana in accordance with their state laws, even though it might violate federal law?
Sessions: I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy. But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government. The department of justice under Lynch and Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion, some parts of marijuana.
Leahy: Do you know those guidelines?
Sessions: I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases but fundamentally, the criticism I think that was legitimate is that they may not have been followed. Using good judgment about how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I will do my job in a fair and just way.
Leahy: You’ve had some very strong views. You even mandated death penalty for anyone with a second drug traffic offense, including marijuana. Even though mandatory death penalties are unconstitutional.
Sessions: Well, I’m not sure under what circumstances I said that. But I don’t think that sounds like something I would normally say. We’re glad to look at it.
Leahy: Would you say that’s not your view today?
Sessions: It is not my view today.
Leahy: Thank you very much.