Questions Surround Sessions’ Marijuana Task Force

Questions Surround Sessions’ Marijuana Task Force

The Department of Justice’s new marijuana task force is supposed to submit a list of federal marijuana policy recommendations to Attorney General Jeff Sessions by July 27.

Will the marijuana task force recommend bolstering the nation’s continued, gradual move toward increased legalization? Or will the committee push for a reversal of existing legalization instead?

Nobody except those involved knows for sure. And they’re not talking.

A super secret task force

Not only is little known about the inner workings — or even the identities of the members — of the task force, but also unclear is how closely the committee’s recommendations will echo the wishes of Sessions and how much Sessions will push for policies that closely match his own views.

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The closest we can come to predicting pot’s legal future is by taking a look at what Sessions has already said (and done) regarding the matter, and by listening to those closest to Sessions’ ear.

Sessions’ take on Holder’s marijuana memo

In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. sought to reform America’s prisons via simple changes to the way drug cases were prosecuted. He issued a memo — called the Cole Memo — aimed at preventing decades-long prison terms for people who were arrested with a small amount of drugs and weren’t dangerous, hard-core, and habitual criminals. Holder rolled back the default position of the harshest possible jail term in all drug cases, while keeping the option available in cases involving, say, defendants who were devoted to a life of crime as part of a large-scale drug trafficking organization, cartel, or gang.

As we mentioned previously, Sessions recently issued a memo overturning Holder’s sweeping reform, directing federal prosecutors instead to charge defendants with the most serious, provable crimes carrying the most severe penalties.

Despite overturning the Cole Memo, Sessions told Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in April the memo wasn’t “too far from good policy,” and also reportedly told the governor, “You haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?” when Hicklenloper asked him about his master plan.

Still, Sessions’ dislike for marijuana is no secret. He says that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

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And, according U.S. News and World Report, Sessions discounts the benefits of medical marijuana, as well as research equating legal access with less opioid abuse. A copy of one of Sessions’ prepared speeches labeled marijuana use a "life-wrecking dependency" that's "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction. A couple of months later, the attorney general said there was "too much legalization talk and not enough prevention talk."

Past that, there hasn’t been much talk from Sessions.

So what will Sessions end up doing?

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says “it’s difficult to ascertain any clear information” about the inner workings of the task force and its related subcommittee. Members of the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading legalization advocacy group, also say they’ve had no contact with the subcommittee. And when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a proponent of marijuana reform and a member of the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, approached Sessions for a sit down, the attorney general refused to meet with him.

“So far, [Sessions'] comments have not indicated a lot of willingness to work together toward common ground,” says West.

So, what do we know?

We know that more Americans think marijuana use should be legal in the U.S. We know that state-legal cannabis businesses took in roughly $6.7 billion in sales last year, employs tens of thousands of people, and generates millions of dollars in taxes. And we know that Attorney General Sessions could make all of that progress go up in a puff of smoke.

We’ll see what happens.