It is no secret that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a solid “no” vote on the topic of marijuana legalization. Throughout his career, he has voiced his opposition to the substance, both for medicinal and recreational usage.
Now, as the nation’s top cop, Sessions has a lot of power, and some fear that he may turn back the federalist wave of state marijuana legalization that has taken place across the country. Currently, recreational use is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia and medicinal use is legal in 19 states.
Last week before a confab of state and local law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia, Sessions stuck to his hardline anti-marijuana stance, saying the drug was nearly as dangerous as heroin and rejecting the push to legalize it.
“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use,” Sessions said. “But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And 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.”
Federal law is on Sessions’ side. The Controlled Substances Act deems marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, including cocaine and heroin, and does not recognize any difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.
It remains unclear exactly how the Trump Justice Department might choose to reinvigorate federal enforcement of the law in the face of state legalization. Sessions has signaled in interviews and other public appearances the marijuana issue will be dealt with in an “appropriate” way.
But this could be a political trap for Sessions and, more broadly, the entire Republican Party.
Just to the east, in Florida, the Morgan & Morgan law firm bombarded every Florida media market, including Pensacola, which shares its media market with Mobile. You may have heard some of the radio ads last election cycle that featured the law firm’s founder, John Morgan, making a plea for a yes vote on a ballot initiative legalizing medicinal marijuana.
Why would the Wal-Mart of ambulance-chasing law firms care about marijuana?
One of the tricks the institutional left — which includes trial lawyers — has used to increase potential Democratic voter turnout over the years has been to put these marijuana legalization referendums on the ballot.
It did not quite go as planned in Florida. Despite the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative winning by an overwhelming 71-29 margin, the state still went Republican for Donald Trump by a narrow 1.2 percent margin.
That being said, is marijuana legalization something that will generate a mass grassroots movement in America?
The answer is no, but at a time when American politics is so divisive, even an issue like marijuana can turn things on the margins.
For the Trump administration and Republicans in general, this might not be the hill to die on.
Over the past eight years, Republicans have championed the idea of decentralizing the power in the federal government.
During the early days of the Tea Party, as President Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority House and Senate were on the verge of passing Obamacare, one of the things conservatives protested was the federal government ignoring the 10th Amendment.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” the 10th Amendment states.
The left mocked and ridiculed the Tea Party platform and labeled champions of the 10th Amendment “Tenthers,” as if they should be dismissed in the same fashion as “birthers” (those who questioned Obama’s birthplace).
Tea Party opponents demagogued “Tenthers” as people who backed a part of the U.S. Constitution that led to the Civil War and allowed some Southern states to enact racist anti-voting laws.
Now there seems to be a role reversal. Those on the left who mocked the “Tenthers” now want decentralization and federalism when it comes to drug policy. The one-size-fits-all argument may apply to health care, economic and social policy. But on the marijuana issue, it is democracy in action and “for the people” is the mantra.
Down the road, Trump could defuse the explosiveness of this issue by publicly stating his endorsement of a laissez-faire policy similar to the Obama administration’s handling of it, but on the grounds of leaving it up to state governments to decide.
Given the laundry list of the other things Trump and his allies want to leave up to the states, including environmental regulation, health care and enforcement of immigration, it would be in their interest to not test the waters using the Supremacy Clause when it comes to marijuana.
While this isn’t the most important issue of the day facing America, there has still been a lot of buzz generated by Sessions’ heightened role in the federal government, and at some point his department will have to determine how to handle it.