A collective sigh of relief came from most major marijuana industry groups after Sen. Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General confirmation hearing Tuesday, Jan. 10., as the Alabama Republican declined to take any strong positions against the cannabis industry (which many had feared he would do).
Sen. Sessions’ confirmation hearing continues Wednesday (multiple outlets are reporting that there are at least two more rounds of questioning from most of the judiciary committee members, on top of scheduled testimonies), but the cannabis topic was discussed Tuesday.
When asked if he would use limited federal resources to prosecute or investigate legal cannabis business owners in states that have legalized marijuana in one form or another, Sessions said, “The department of justice under [Loretta] Lynch and [Eric] Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized at least in some fashion some parts of marijuana.”
“I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases,” the Alabama senator continued, “using good judgment of handling these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I will do my job in a fair and just way.”
Those statements, coupled with the incoming Trump administration’s position on state sovereignty and cannabis, has quelled some of the industry’s fears.
“In today's hearing, Senator Sessions indicated that the Justice Department's current guidelines for marijuana policy enforcement are 'truly valuable' in setting departmental priorities,” said National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith in a statement. “That belief, along with the support for state sovereignty on cannabis policy expressed by President-elect Trump and his team, should lead Sen. Sessions to maintain the current federal policy of respect for state-legal, regulated cannabis programs if he is confirmed as Attorney General.”
Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Director of Federal Policies Robert Capecchi also noted in a statement that the senator had an opportunity to take “an extreme prohibitionist approach, and he passed on it.”
“It's also promising that Donald Trump’s spokesperson said earlier in the day that the next Attorney General would follow the president-elect’s lead on the issue,” Capecchi also said in his statement.
Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer said during a Tuesday morning interview on Fox News that, “When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda you’re implementing and not your own.”
Even officials at the local level were encouraged by Sen. Sessions’ comments. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, also a vocal cannabis industry supporter, said in a statement that Sen. Sessions “did not close the door on continuing Obama-era marijuana policy. This is very encouraging in light of some of his past statements.”
“The voters in Pueblo County spoke loud and clear that they want a robust regulatory system that allows for adult marijuana use to be regulated and taxed. Fundamentally, this is a states' rights issue.”
While somewhat comforting, Sen. Sessions’ comments on how he would enforce federal cannabis laws were vague at times. When questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the cannabis issue, Sessions said “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act.”
Sessions added, “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” leaving the door open that he might be more firm in enforcing federal drug laws, while they still exist, than Attorneys General Lynch and Holder.
Photo at top courtesy of C-SPAN