Promising to enforce federal drug laws, 71-year-old Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions antagonized the pro-legalization lobby, where states like Colorado and Washington rake in millions in taxes from recreational weed sales. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Co.) threatened to throw a monkey wrench into President Donald Trump’s legislative and judicial agenda if Sessions follows through with enforcing federal drug laws related to marijuana. While Sessions rescinded three Obama-era executive orders calling off federal law enforcement in states with medical and recreational weed laws, it doesn’t mean Session has given the Drug Enforcement Agency orders to enforce federal drug laws. “He is out of step with our nation. He is on the wrong side of history just like you look back on those people who were pushing alcohol prohibition,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), threatening new legislation.
Booker looks at weed-legalization as a part of criminal justice reform, where blacks and minorities are singled out disproportionately for drug-related offenses. Booker said if Sessions orders a nationwide crackdown of current federal marijuana laws, he and Gardner will submit legislation for federal legalization. Eight states, including D.C., passed recreational use laws, allowing adults 21-years-or-older to buy limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. Another 20 states have passed compassionate uses laws, allowing doctors to write prescriptions for various medial conditions. Sessions hasn’t said what he intends to do, other than end Obama-era exceptions to current federal drug laws. Sessions never said that he’d order the DEA to do anything different from current federal enforcement practices. Booker expressed anger over Sessions heavy-handed approach.
National studies show that over 60% of U.S. citizens support recreational use laws, de-criminalizing marijuana. Local and County jails and state prisons are filled with inmates for marijuana-related offenses, including street use and selling. Compassionate use and recreational laws allow ordinary folks to buy weed for personal use, without facing the criminal justice system. “I was incredibly angered but really not that shocked. I’ve been warning people about this possibility,” said Booker, regarding Sessions rescinding Obama’s policy letting states vote on recreational and compassionate use laws. Booker could have overreacted to Sessions simply saying that the Justice Department would “return to the rule of law,” not give prosecutors marching orders to enforce federal cannabis laws. Gardner, whose state raked in about $120 million in taxes from weed, wants Session to stand down.
Debates about the medical or recreational benefits or non-benefits from cannabis have convinced no one, other than polarize proponents and opponents. Gardner wants the federal government to respect states’ rights to legislate recreational or medical week laws. Booker agrees that federalism should rule the day but is mostly concerned about the adverse effect on minorities in the courts. Booker sees federal drug laws “targeting poor people, vulnerable people [and] minorities,” calling for the federal government to continue its laissez faire approach. “We know objectively that blacks and whites have no difference in marijuana usage or selling, but blacks are about 3-7 times more likely to be arrested for it,” said Booker, insisting the decriminalization is the only logical path forward. Sessions wants to return to the “rule of law” but only if it suits his political agenda.
States like California, Washington and Colorado don’t want the federal government messing with important tax revenues for medical and recreational weed sales. While Booker touts Obama-era executive orders allowing states to determine what to do with weed, former President Barack Obama had eight years to revise federal laws related to the sale and use of cannabis. Had Obama changed federal drug laws, no one would care about Sessions’ personal views. Leaving punitive federal weed drug laws on the books keeps the stakes high today. Booker admitted to never using weed but still thinks cannabis should be taken off the DEA’s list of banned substances. Regulating cannabis started in 1906, eventually leading to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, culminating in the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, scheduling marijuana together with heroin as a dangerous narcotic.
Sessions talk about “the rule of law” doesn’t deny that some eight states and territories voted for recreational weed use. Contrary to Booker or Gardner’s concerns, Sessions has no intent to giving DEA marching orders to enforce current DEA laws related to marijuana. While Sessions should order the DEA to re-classify marijuana, it’s probably not going to happen. Booker’s concerns about criminal justice reform are undeniable, especially the numbers of minorities rotting in state prisons. Whatever Sessions decides to do about federal drug laws, Booker plans to introduce legislation decriminalizing the sale and use of marijuana. “This is really a large issue of justice. It’s not about a plant ultimately. This is about what’s just and right in our country,” said Booker, promising to work with Gardner and other senators to once-and-for-all remove weed from U.S. criminal law.