Dear Pot Lawyer,
With everything that's been going on in Washington these days, what's the latest on federal weed law?
The big news last week was a bipartisan group of senators sticking it to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The committee voted to continue shielding state medical cannabis programs from federal interference. This protection is indirect but effective: The senators didn’t vote to change federal law, but instead simply voted not to allocate any budget to Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution of medical cannabis actors. In other words, the fiscal year 2018 budget should maintain the status quo, dating back to 2014. Nice work by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The reason this decision felt especially gratifying to pot boosters is the fact that Sessions had written his old colleagues in the Senate last month, imploring them not to extend these protections. Said Sessions, “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.” Your Attorney General also has warned of an America with “marijuana sold at every corner grocery store” causing “significant negative health effects.” Sessions, of course, has taken piles of money from Big Tobacco, whose products are sold in every corner grocery store and are certainly not the healthiest.
The DOJ attempted to fight this enforcement spending restriction a few years back, when it sued a medical cannabis dispensary. That one didn’t go so well: In icing the attempt, a federal district court witheringly observed that the DOJ’s efforts “torture” the meaning of the law and “defy language and logic.” Given this background, Sessions is probably stuck, at least with respect to medical cannabis. When it comes to adult-use weed, though, things are sort of tricky.
Assuming Sessions keeps his job, he could definitely go after adult-use weed without interference from existing laws. He might find political pushback, but the legal cuffs are off. It’s worth noting that Sessions has already rolled back Obama-era guidelines on criminal charges and sentencing, and he re-established a Kafkaesque program that allows the DOJ to seize people’s assets, even if they are merely suspected of crimes. Sessions also leads President Trump’s retrograde Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which is compiling a report that will cover weed and violent crime. That one may be ready by the time you are reading this; if not, you can probably guess what it will say.
Ultimately, no one knows what is going to happen with any of this, but seeing the attorney general get iced on a personal appeal to his ex-colleagues counts as a win. Hopefully, those same legislators will begin to shore things up with adult-use weed. If they don’t, and Sessions continues to press, the fight will be left to the states, and all of those corner grocery stores.
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