Jeff Sessions as Attorney General will be a nightmare for legal and medical marijuana freedoms

Jay Leiderman
By: Jay Leiderman
November 29 2016

Jeff Sessions as Attorney General will be a nightmare for legal and medical marijuana freedoms

Jeff Sessions
Anti-drug warrior could be the biggest threat to the evolution of marijuana legalization

How the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General might affect both legal and medical marijuana in the 29 states that have programs and to what degree will the Federal Government may interfere with state’s rights to enforce the controlled substances act of 1971.

President-elect Donald Trump has selected hardline marijuana medication and legalization plan reform adversary Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general of the United States, a move that sent mass trepidation through states with any degree of marijuana legalization activity. Sen. Jeff Sessions was an immediately divisive figure when President-elect Donald Trump named him as his next attorney general: conservatives and migrants hardliners accepted the choice, while civil-rights groups and Democrats spent the day fighting the pick, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren saying “there can be no compromise with racism; no negotiation with hate,” and Sen. Cory Booker saying, “I am concerned that he offers philosophies that are incompatible with basic tenets of the Justice Department’s objective.”

medical marijuana
Lawyer and author Jay Leiderman on medical marijuana law

Marijuana remains unlawful as a schedule 1 substance (no medical value) under the Federal Government Controlled Substances Act of 1971, notwithstanding the development of so-called “recreational” or “legal” programs in Washington State, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine and Washington, D.C. (The Region, though, continues to ban sales, compared with state programs.) Four of the aforementioned are new states that accepted legalization on this past Election Day, and 29 states in total have adopted programs for legalized marijuana for healthcare reasons. This activity has only been able to press forward because of Department of Justice guidance encouraging Government prosecutors to avoid focusing on state-legal marijuana operations except in extreme and egregious situations.  The background involves the so-called Cole and Ogden memos.

In an aspect the critics’ focus was on questionable past comments by Sessions, such as allegations that he said the NAACP and United States Liberties Union were “un-American,” and joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I learned they smoked pot.” But much of the concern is what he’d actually do as Attorney General: that he’d challenge civil rights, take lawful action against more undocumented immigrants and allow organizations to go wild with mergers.

So what could he really do? Some cabinet-level jobs have restricted power to affect the nation, either because of their filter objective or the slow rule-making processes needed to make significant changes in public policy. Not so as that relates to the Attorney General.  Notwithstanding the fact that he would be sitting on top of the vast Department of Justice Bureaucracy, the Attorney General has extensive autonomy to move American policy in large ways just by how he prioritizes its restricted resources—in other words, which the office selects to take lawful action against and which ones it lets go. It runs a multitude of organizations, such as the highly effective FBI, DEA, and the immigration legal courts. And it also, insiders say, the Attorney General’s Office uses its large influence on the White House’s own sense of its power. “At every cabinet meeting, they are the person who everyone goes to and says what varieties of choices are,” said a former Bush administration official. “Being able to cottage or increase all the different choices available to the professional division is an extremely effective capability.”

How could Sessions leave his fingerprints on the country? Here are 5 issues where Sessions could most considerably change public policy:


Since marijuana is still governmentally unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act, the attorney general has the ability to decide whether to implement Federal Government law in states that have accepted medical or recreational marijuana use. Under Obama, the DOJ has taken a hands-off approach and Trump seemed to agree with that plan, saying that marijuana should be left up to the states. But the president-elect has also never shown a deep interest in drug plan while Sessions has been an intense adversary of marijuana legalization, such as saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

good people don’t smoke marijuana

“Sessions has numerous types of choices when it comes to breaking down if he selects to do so,” said Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML, a group that facilitates marijuana legalization. “That could vary from basically raiding and closing down state lawful shops; bringing legal charges against the owners of those shops and it could be tossing up hurdles when it comes to the execution of these poll projects.”

States such as Washington and Colorado have served as guinea pigs for the rest of the nation, applying policies around recreational marijuana use, and more states are set to join them after voters passed initiatives in all 9 states that had the issue on the ballot on November 8th. Genuine and lawful businesses are operating freely in the states. Sessions could close down these companies and implement the Federal Government law against marijuana use, pleasing anti-drug advocates—but likely shocking many Americans in a nation that increasingly supports marijuana legalization.  At election time, marijuana legalization in some form was polling nationally at 60% for and 31% against.


The stakes are high for many undocumented immigrants, mainly those who become caught up in the legal justice system. The Justice Department has two unique sections of power over immigration: defending immigration offenses and providing the migrant’s court processes. It has significant power over the administration of immigration laws and rules, such as unlawful reentry into the United State and immigration scams. The law has always been that “nowhere is Congress’ power more plenary and unqualified than at the borders.”  For example, under Obama, the DOJ worked with the Department of Country Protection on a program called Operation Streamline which charged immigrants caught unlawfully traversing the border, which provides tighter repercussions than if those caught at the border had just been revert back to the other side. This system, widely disliked by immigration activists, was scaled back in the past several years.

plenary and unqualified

A different agency within the Department of Justice arbitrates the petitions of immigration court rulings and its decisions set an example for future situations. Those decisions can often be technical and deal with arcane sections of immigration law but they can often be life-or-death decisions for the appellants, such as in the situations over asylum law. The attorney general can turn around any example decision by assigning it for review, allowing him a significant power to modify immigration plan. “The attorney general has tremendous power over the administration of immigration law,” said David Leopold, immigration attorneys based in Cleveland.

There’s no particular number of undocumented immigrants who may be at risk if Sessions, who is known as a hard-liner on immigration, is verified as attorney general. But it could participate in a wider attack on unlawful immigration, promoting greater fear among undocumented immigrants and which makes it harder for asylum-seekers to stay in the country legally.


The Justice Department is mainly accountable for protecting the Federal Government in all surveillance arguments, such as when the Apple Company declined to help the FBI decrypt the iPhone owned by the assailant in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. It also is mainly accountable for protecting the Federal Government before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which manages national security surveillance. Those decisions will now fall to Sessions and people he sets up at DOJ.

Sessions have reinforced allowing law administration extensive variety to access that information, demeaning the Apple Company in the San Bernardino case and warning against any tries to restrict the NSA. The technology industry is already worried about how he will handle surveillance programs. After the Snowden leaking, technical organizations have become more reluctant to work together with the Federal Government and more willing to go to court to prevent law administration organizations from obtaining their customers’ information, such as email, without a guarantee.

The tin foil age – you are no longer crazy if you think that the government is spying on you. Tin foil hats are needed more now than ever before 😉

A Sessions-run DOJ that takes a harder line against technical organizations could result in much more warmed fights between the Federal Government and industry—and fewer privacy rights for everyday Americans.

Police Misconduct

Under Obama, the Justice Department has made it a priority to break down on cops’ wrong doings. Some of that has come through grants to law enforcement organizations to purchase body cameras and other tools and through a task force to improve policing techniques. But one significant technique to clean up police departments has been through investigations by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Department, either into particular occurrences or wide exams of police departments.

These investigations have exposed clear instances of racist behavior and comments by cops, shining a light on practices in places such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. Many black and Hispanic Americans in these places saw the cops more as a risk than a power for protection.

Whether a Sessions-run Department of Justice will continue to focus investigations into cops’ wrong doings is uncertain, but unlikely. Many conservatives and police departments have begrudged the investigations and considered them an instance of Government overreach; they will compliment Sessions if he chooses to limit those investigations. But for much of the underprivileged populations, DOJ investigations are often their last chance to modify law administration organizations and receive justice under law.

Other Civil Right Concerns

Beyond cops wrong doings and voting rights, the Justice Department makes sure civil rights laws and rules on a variety number of problems are enforced fairly (or at least they are supposed to). Sessions could roll back rules avoiding schools from not including kids who are undocumented immigrants or maintaining the rights of transgender students. These questionable actions last only as long as the management in the Justice Department is dedicated to them. The same goes for the administration of property laws and rules or marriage equality against LGBT Americans.

For LGBT and community Americans, Obama’s desire to stretch his power under civil rights laws has earned them equal protection previously provided to millions of Americans. But to opponents, it’s been an example of Obama’s neglect for the concept of law and desire to infringe on state’s rights.

10 thoughts on “Jeff Sessions as Attorney General will be a nightmare for legal and medical marijuana freedoms

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  6. As cannabis enthusiasts celebrate 4/20 across the country, the long shadow of the Trump Administration isn’t just a major buzz kill — it has also has sent chills across a blossoming cannabis industry and the wider decriminalization and legalization movement.

    The administration has yet to crack down on enforcement of federal drug laws in its first 92 days, and as the 420 holiday weekend rambles on, the president has remained silent on the issue. Instead, he has allowed new Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough talk and often poorly researched statements on marijuana to cast a pall over states in which voters have approved legal medical and recreational cannabis.

    A review of marijuana-related legislative news in the opening months of the Trump presidency shows that the administration’s threatening language has driven lawmakers to respond with moves to either fortify or abandon marijuana legalization, decriminalization and medical research efforts.

    Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, who has established himself as one of pot’s primary protectors in his leadership role on the recently formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said the bipartisan coalition is finding its backbone in the Trump era. He told The Cannabist in an exclusive interview this week:

    “I think there’s consensus that at least we shouldn’t have any mass enforcement action against the states,” he said. “If Jeff Sessions attempts that, I hope he’ll have to contend with many of us–certainly myself–but I think enough Republicans and Democrats will say, ‘Look, you need to stick to federal responsibilities. This is a states’ role.’

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