Pot Showdown: How Congress Is Uniting to Stop Jeff Sessions’ War on Drugs

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Pro-pot lawmakers in the nation’s capital spent much of last year fighting behind the scenes to protect their state’s legal marijuana industries, but now the cannabis fight is out in the open after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he’s unwinding the Obama-era guidance that directed U.S. Attorneys to not go after marijuana businesses in states that legalized it.

“It was a surprise,” Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. “It leaves the liberty of consumers up to 93 U.S. Attorneys who on a whim could engage in enforcement action against activities that are legal and regulated by states.”

Lawmakers of all stripes are now searching for their best outlets to combat the actions of the attorney general who they see as rogue on this issue – just two years ago, then-candidate Donald Trump said marijuana laws should be left to the states. With nearly 29 states and the District of Columbia having legalized some form of marijuana, one would think there would be enough bipartisan consensus to pass a federal bill to tie Sessions’ hands, but, according to Polis, “the legislative process is very slow, so we need to do something sooner.”

The hangup is that marijuana remains a Schedule I narcotic at the federal level, which puts it in the same category as heroin and LSD. If Congress doesn’t change the law, Sessions has a federal statute at his disposal that lawmakers fear he’ll wield in a variety of ways. That’s why many lawmakers are attempting to undercut the attorney general by penning letters directly to the president that gently urge him to remember his campaign pledge, while they’re also working on numerous other legislative fronts to forestall any federal intrusion in state-sanctioned marijuana businesses.

But it’s not just Democrats leading the charge. Republicans have historically placed states’ rights above encroachment by the federal government. So a handful of Republicans have been left scratching their heads now that a Republican administration is attempting to clamp down on their local, legal industries.

“That’s what we just don’t understand. That’s what I think the ambiguity is right now that we need some clarification on,” Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) tells Rolling Stone. The lawmaker is furious with Sessions because during his confirmation Gardner was assured by his former Senate colleague from Alabama “that marijuana would not be a priority for this administration,” according to Gardner.

After the announcement from Sessions, Gardner vowed to use any procedural tool at his disposal to block Department of Justice nominees until the attorney general stands by his commitment to not prioritize marijuana prosecutions. Last week Gardner sat down with Sessions to reiterate his demands face to face, but he says more meeting are needed and he hopes to have other lawmakers with him next time in order to get Sessions to see the scope of opposition to his prohibitionist stance.

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