Attorney General Jeff Sessions reaffirmed his opposition to marijuana legalization Tuesday, Feb. 28, speaking at the National Association of Attorneys General winter meeting in the District of Columbia.
“I’m dubious about marijuana,” Sessions told the audience. “States, I guess, can pass whatever laws they choose. But I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store. We’ll have to work our way through that.”
Although eight states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana for qualifying patients, zero states allow marijuana to be sold at “corner grocery stores,” as Sessions said.
The Attorney General also criticized recent news reports identifying marijuana’s potential to replace opiate painkillers for the treatment of chronic pain as a solution to reducing the country’s rising rates of opiate addiction.
“Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse? Give me a break,” Sessions scoffed. “This is the kind of argument that has been made out there. It’s just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong. But at this point in time you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgement, that which we’ve learned over a period of years and speak truth as best we can.”
In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence supports the use of medical marijuana as a substitute or adjunct to prescription opiates for the treatment of chronic pain.
According to a 2012 study published by the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, cannabis shows significant promise in reducing opiate use and associated side effects in chronic pain patients. What’s more, researchers found cannabinoids can prevent opiate tolerance and withdrawal, and can even rekindle opiate pain-relieving effects after a patient has developed a tolerance to a particular dose. Researchers concluded that cannabis may actually be “useful in the treatment of problematic substance abuse.”
Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, calls Sessions’ comments “ridiculous,” particularly in light of current research contradicting his claims about marijuana and opioids.
“If the attorney general really cares about public health and safety, he’ll stop relying on ‘alternative facts’ to prop up an outdated ‘Reefer Madness’ view of marijuana,” Angell said in an email statement to Extract. “This administration should respect science and, at the very least, needs to uphold the president’s repeated campaign pledges to respect state cannabis laws.”
Sessions’ comments aren’t necessarily surprising, given his long record of opposing marijuana reform and supporting harsh sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses. But now that the former Republican U.S. Senator from Alabama is stationed at the helm of the Justice Department, his statements arguably carry more weight.
“Jeff Sessions is a drug war extremist with a career-long history of racist comments and actions,” Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in January 2017. “In recent years, Sessions played a critical role in blocking efforts to reform sentencing policy, asset forfeiture, and marijuana laws.”
President Donald Trump repeatedly indicated along the campaign trail that marijuana laws should be left to the states, but Sessions’ Tuesday comments and Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s statements on Thursday, Feb. 23, appear to signal a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana states.
Any attempts by the federal government to crack down on state marijuana legalization would likely be met with substantial public opposition. According to October 2016 Gallup polling, 60 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal for adult recreational use. Among Americans aged 18 to 34, that number rises to 77 percent who support legalization. Additionally, a February 2017 Quinnipiac University poll found that 71 percent of Americans would oppose efforts by the Justice Department to enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use.