Article by Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pulled off something that would have been unthinkable just a few years back: he managed to rally Republican lawmakers behind weed.
Sessions announced on Thursday that he would be rescinding a policy from the Obama administration that had discouraged prosecutors in states where marijuana was legalized from bringing charges for marijuana-related crimes, unless they involved distribution to minors, revenue sale benefiting gangs or cartels and a few other federal priorities. In its place, federal prosecutors would be given discretion (not guidance) to pursue marijuana-related prosecutions.
The announcement was a reversal of a memo authored by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013, who wrote the Obama-era guidelines after Colorado and Washington voted to decriminalize marijuana for recreational use. And it managed to tick off a number of lawmakers from those states as well as the eight others—in addition to Washington D.C.—who have voted to legalize recreational marijuana use since.
Charlie Baker, the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, called the Sessions policy “the wrong decision,” while pledging to “review any potential impacts.” Republican Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada told The Daily Beast in a statement that he believed “Nevada’s marijuana industry is a model for other states.” Bill Walker, the Independent Governor of Alaska, called the decision “disappointing,” adding that he was “committed to upholding the will of Alaskans on this issue and maintaining our State’s sovereign rights to manage our own affairs while protecting federal interests.” Alaska became the third state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2015.
And on the Hill, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) went a step further saying that he would hold up the confirmation of future Department of Justice staff unless the Sessions policy was changed.
“The decision today blindsided me and many others who were under the belief that this wouldn’t happen,” Gardner told reporters. “If the Department of Justice wants another nominee confirmed, they better fix this.”
Sessions is a longtime foe of looser marijuana laws and has taken a far stricter and more antiquated approach to combating drug use in general. Though he put on a softer facade in his confirmation hearing, advocates for legalizing marijuana had anticipated that such a decision would come eventually from his office.