In a move that is certain to set off alarm bells throughout the cannabis community, President-Elect Donald Trump has tabbed Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the U.S. Attorney General, according to several news reports, including the New York Times.
Sessions, 69, served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama during the Ronald Reagan Administration and was elected to the Senate in 1996. In his role on the Senate Judiciary Committee he has opposed proposals to cut mandatory minimum sentences and during a 1986 confirmation hearing to determine Sessions’ possible appointment as a federal judge, former assistant U.S. attorney, Thomas Figures, testified that Sessions “only objected to the [Ku Klux] Klan because of drug use by its members.”
In 1999, Sessions voted yes on increasing penalties for drug offenses. In Jan. 2014, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions said he was “heartbroken” when President Barack Obama said he didn’t think cannabis was “more dangerous than alcohol.”
“It’s stunning to me. I find it beyond comprehension….This is just difficult for me to conceive how the president of the United States could make such a statement as that,” Sessions said during the hearing. “Did the president conduct any medical or scientific survey before he waltzed into The New Yorker and opined contrary to the positions of attorneys general and presidents universally prior to that?”
During that hearing, Sessions argued that cannabis was not safer than alcohol because Lady Gaga said she was addicted to it.
Moreover, during an April hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, called cannabis a “dangerous” drug, saying “you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about” asserting, “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“The President-Elect has been unbelievably impressed with Senator Sessions and his phenomenal record as Alabama’s attorney general and U.S. attorney,” the Trump transition team said in a statement. “It is no wonder the people of Alabama re-elected him without opposition.”
Sessions received a grade of ‘F’ from NORML on their 2016 Congressional Scorecard.
Danielle Keane, legislative director for NORML who developed the scorecard, said that marijuana’s Election Day success proves that “marijuana law reform is an issue that is supported by solid majorities of Americans of all ages and political ideologies,” and the incoming administration needs to “read the pulse” of the electorate.
“Although Senator Sessions has been an outspoken critic of marijuana and President Obama’s hands-off approach to allowing states to reform their own laws, it’s clear that it wouldn’t be good public policy to try and overturn these laws,” Keane said in an email. “It remains to be seen whether or not the incoming administration identifies the political infighting these actions may create but we hope they think twice before stepping in to reverse policies that the majority of public opinion supports.”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said the nomination “should send a chill down the spine” of Americans who support cannabis law reforms.
“[His] archaic mentality is not what we need from our nation’s Attorney General and we must put pressure on President-Elect Trump to ensure that Sessions upholds Trump’s campaign promise to not interfere with state marijuana laws,” Altieri said in a statement.
During a June 2007 vote on whether to declare English as the official language of the U.S. government, Sessions recommended voting ‘no’ on the measure, citing his support for states’ rights.
President-Elect Trump said on the campaign trail that he supported medical cannabis use “100 percent,” however it remains unclear as to whether or not the incoming president will decide to rollback any of the progress made in cannabis policy on both the state and federal levels.
The Obama administration has operated under the Cole Memo, declining to use federal funds to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized medical and adult-use cannabis.