The former U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush believes Jeff Sessions has more important things to focus on than cracking down on states that have legalized cannabis.
Even Republicans are critical of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s efforts to interfere with states that have legalized marijuana. In a recent interview with Newsweek, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that he believes Sessions and the country have more important issues to focus on than cracking down on cannabis.
“With respect to everything else going on in the U.S, this is pretty low-priority,” Gonzales, a Republican, said in the interview.
Gonzales, who served as U.S. Attorney General between 2005 and 2007 under the younger President Bush, criticized Sessions’ interest in going after states that have legalized marijuana, arguing that the federal government and its Justice Department have other pressing issues that are more deserving of attention.
“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law,” Gonzales said, “one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on.”
Marijuana Laws in the United States
Twenty-nine U.S. states and Washington D.C. have legalized the medical use of marijuana, the first being California in 1996. Eight of those states and Washington D.C. have also since legalized recreational marijuana.
These state marijuana laws directly conflict with federal law. Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified a Schedule I substance and, therefore, federally illegal.
Historically, the Justice Department has permitted businesses operating in accordance with state laws to continue without much interference. During President Barack Obama’s administration, the Department took a “hands-off” approach, publicly confirming that the federal government would not pursue crackdowns in states that had legalized medical or recreational marijuana, provided that states followed a short list of guidelines.
The Donald Trump administration has indicated it could at some point enforce federal laws barring the use of marijuana, reversing the Obama administration policy. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer once suggested a crackdown was imminent. Later, Attorney General Sessions, a staunch cannabis opponent, unsuccessfully attempted to reverse federal protections that prevent his Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with medical marijuana states.
Gonzales: “The Attorney General Works for the President”
During the interview, Gonzales directed his cannabis-related criticisms toward Sessions, but also noted that the President sets the Justice Department’s agenda.
“What people often fail to understand or appreciate, is that the attorney general works for the president,” Gonzales said. “While the attorney general has a great deal of say about law enforcement policy, so does the White House. When Jeff Sessions makes something, he responds to the White House.”
Trump’s participation in his administration’s efforts against cannabis legalization is unclear. While on the campaign trail, candidate Trump promised to protect medical marijuana and his attitudes on adult use legalization regularly wavered.
Since taking office, however, he has neither addressed marijuana policy nor given any indication of any changes to come. He also has not yet responded to the American Legion’s request to reschedule cannabis to assist veterans, and while he’s verbally addressed the opioid crisis, he has failed to consider medical marijuana’s potential role in the epidemic’s solution.
Meanwhile, his administration and GOP leaders appear determined to interfere with the nation’s legal marijuana market, although Sessions did recently acknowledge that protections from federal interference into state legal cannabis business are in effect.
National polling shows that about 60 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization, and an even larger majority want the federal government to remain hands-off regarding states where it’s legal.
While a federal crackdown on marijuana states could impact access to patients and jeopardize billions in revenue and thousands of jobs, a report published earlier this year projected that the nation’s marijuana industry will continue on its projected annual growth rate, regardless of any interference attempts by the Trump administration.
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