Sessions seeks to undo medical marijuana protections

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

In a letter to legislators made public this week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Congress to get rid of laws that have helped the medical marijuana industry avoid federal prosecution.

Sessions outlined in the May 1 letter his belief that the Department of Justice (DOJ) should have authority to fund drug prosecutions, “particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic.” He also expressed his belief that “smoking marijuana … has significant negative health effects.”

Legislation in effect since 2014 has prevented the DOJ from using funds to prevent certain states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana” — even though, Sessions points out, marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also ruled last year that the DOJ couldn’t use funds to prosecute entities on matters regarding medical marijuana, unless those entities are in violation of their state’s medical marijuana law.

But Sessions thinks this too should be opened up for DOJ funding.

“The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives,” he writes as justification for allowing the DOJ to use their own discretion in funding prosecutions. Drug traffickers already cultivate and distribute marijuana throughout the U.S. under the “guise” of medical marijuana operations, he writes.

Sessions pulled out Colorado as an example of how he thinks criminals are abusing the medical marijuana system. Citing the recent indictment of 16 people in a drug trafficking ring, Sessions noted that the “ringleader” of the operation held an active Colorado medical marijuana license. Details of the case are still being sorted out, and in the same Denver Post article Sessions cited, George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District Attorney, which is prosecuting the case, couldn’t say if the operation was using marijuana laws to shield their activities.

Sessions then concluded his letter with a rundown of all the ways marijuana is harmful: It’s “linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, respiratory ailments … and substance abuse disorder and addiction.” People who started smoking pot in their teens lose an average of eight IQ points by middle age, Sessions writes.

Nowhere in the letter, unsurprisingly, does Sessions provide research or testimony that contradicts his thesis that marijuana use is sinful and medical marijuana is nothing but a cover for drug traffickers. He also doesn’t mention, even in the “midst of an historic drug epidemic,” that most people are dying from opiate abuse, which many folks have to turn to because it’s easier to get a prescription from a doctor than access medical marijuana.

The funding stipulation is set to expire in September, so that means in order for it to stay, Congress would have to renew it. If it doesn’t, the medical marijuana industry, and those who rely on it, will likely be left in the dark about the future of the industry. 

However, the good news is that the amendment has wide, bipartisan support. If Sessions’ letter has any impact on lawmakers in this politically charged time remains to be seen.