Several months ago Attorney General Jeff Sessions dropped a bomb… or bong in this case… on the marijuana market when he rescinded policies allowing states to legalize pot with a memo from the Department of Justice. Sessions has a long history of being a proponent of the “War on Drugs” and anti-legalization.
Sessions is also an active supporter of the controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. This practice is the legal process in which law enforcement officers take assets from persons suspected of involvement in a crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing. Many view this as a violation of due process which is a foundational Constitutional principle mentioned in both the fourth and fourteenth amendments and derived directly from the Magna Carta during the original drafting of the document.
After Sessions’ controversial memo, Senator Cory Gardener (CO-R) threatened to block all future DOJ nominations in an effort to protect his state’s sovereignty to make their own decisions as guaranteed by the tenth amendment. In an apparent standoff, President Donald Trump stepped in promising that he would support all congressional efforts to protect states that have chosen to legalize marijuana.
The Washington Post reported that Gardener was satisfied with this promise from President Trump. He stated – “Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana. Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all. Because of these commitments, I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees.”
Now it seems President Trump is going to make good on that promise stating in effect, “if you like your dispensary, you can keep your dispensary.” A new bipartisan bill is being presented by Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA-D) in an effort to ensure just that.
The legislation is known as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act and would allow states to regulate marijuana without federal interference by amending the Controlled Substances Act so that it does not supersede any state, territory or tribal laws “relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of [marijuana]”
Gardner quipped that trying to roll back pot laws would be like “putting ketchup back in the bottle” and also noted that current finance laws have made it difficult for legal marijuana businesses to operate.
“This city of Denver, the state of Colorado, can collect taxes … they can take it to the bank,” Gardner said. “But if you’re in the business, if you work for the business, you can’t get a bank loan or set up a bank account because of the concern over the conflict between the state and federal law. We need to fix this public hypocrisy.”
He and Warren joined forces in April 2018 stating they would be working together in an effort to hold President Trump accountable for the promises he made during his campaign with respect to states rights. Warren states the goal of the bill is an effort to “ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.”
Meanwhile, President Trump has indicated his support of the bill putting him in direct opposition to Sessions’ hardline stance that marijuana is the devil….or something. Politico reported on President Trump’s comments regarding the bill and his intentions to sign it, stating – “Pressed on whether he supports the measure while addressing reporters outside the White House on Friday, the president said he supports it now and will ‘probably’ support it going forward. ‘I really do. I support Senator Gardner,’ Trump said of the lawmaker’s bill. ‘I know exactly what he’s doing, we’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.’”
This bill is being presented on the heels of the Canadian Senate voting to legalize recreational marijuana in a 56 to 30 vote. A handful of amendments have been left to be decided on by the House of Commons before the policy can be enacted, however. The Independent reports – “While there is not yet a defined date when the drug will go on sale, clearing the Senate appeared to be the last serious hurdle for the bill, with a number of Conservative senators opposing legalization.
Health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said earlier this year that cannabis would only go on sale a few months after legalization because new retail systems needed time to launch successfully.”
The legalization of marijuana is one of the more controversial issues in our country currently and it is a far more nuanced conversation than many people would like to admit from both sides of the aisle.
Some people would like to see the full prohibition of marijuana completely lifted and therefore allow people to simply walk down the street practicing puff, puff, pass as they wish. Yet others wish to decriminalize marijuana so people are not going to jail for years over a joint effectively attempting to address the issue of what many perceive as victimless crimes. Some believe this is a step towards addressing such pressing issues as the school to prison pipeline and mandatory minimums by more effective means than they have been addressed in the past. America currently boasts the largest prison population in the world. Much of that is for low-level drug offenders with no violent history or “victim” for their crime. Yet others view marijuana as a so-called “gateway drug” and believe it should be illegal with harsh sentencing imposed on offenders.
Regardless, it is a complicated issue and one that puts President Trump at odds with Sessions if the president intends to live up to his promise to Senator Gardner as well as the American people. One thing is clear, President Trump does not seem to much care what Sessions thinks and has been very public in his criticisms of the Attorney General to date. All indications point to President Trump living up to his promise and pulling the trigger on legalization, finally.