Justice Department task force set to review federal marijuana policies
Emily Gray Brosious
April 7, 2017: 4:07 PM CT
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has created a Justice Department task force subcommittee to evaluate federal marijuana policies, The Cannabist reports.
In February, Sessions formed the Justice Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. And in an April 5 memo to the U.S. attorneys, Sessions revealed that a task force subcommittee “will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities.”
The memo gives no indication as to how Sessions’ Justice Department is leaning on the issue of marijuana enforcement in the states, but the initial recommendations are due by July 27.
The memo also indicates that the task force will hold a National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety “so that we can learn from federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, victims’ advocacy organizations, and community advocacy organizations about how we can best support and replicate successful local violent crime reduction efforts.”
Sessions has a long history of outspoken marijuana opposition. Since becoming the head of the Justice Department, he has continued speaking out against marijuana and has been reluctant to draw any lines of separation between marijuana and other illicit drugs.
“I’m dubious about marijuana,” Sessions said on Feb. 28, speaking at the National Association of Attorneys General winter meeting in the District of Columbia. “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.”
Sessions also criticized news reports citing marijuana’s potential to help solve America’s opioid epidemic by replacing opiate painkillers for the treatment of chronic pain.
“Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse? Give me a break. 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,” he said.
Speaking in Richmond, Virginia, about violent crime on March 15, Sessions conflated the dangers of marijuana with those of heroin, saying, “I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
Sessions hinted at his approach to marijuana enforcement in states with marijuana laws during a March interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“Marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws,” he said. “So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide.”
Sessions did acknowledge that it would be impossible for the federal government to singlehandedly crack down on state-legal marijuana.
“It’s not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that’s legalized it,” he said.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized comprehensive medical cannabis programs, and eight states plus D.C. have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use to date.
The Obama administration’s Cole memorandum directed Justice Department officials not to go after state-legal marijuana activities, but it’s unclear if Sessions plans to uphold similar directives. The Cole memo will likely be one of the elements up for review by Sessions’ new task force.
In March, Sessions told reporters that “the Cole memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid,” adding that he “may have some different ideas myself in addition to that.”