Sessions stumbles

Republicans lead charge on pot

Eureka [Calif.] Times Standard

In the myths of marijuana, smoking it causes paranoia.

Of course, it never had that effect. The paranoia came from prohibition. And after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to reinstate the old punitive federal policy toward marijuana on Jan. 4, the paranoia returned on the part of many pot merchants and pot fans. But not all. Some were just amused. Others were angry.

Sessions’ words are having an impact. The Las Vegas Sun reports, “Officials representing the city of Las Vegas and Clark County said Monday that neither entity is immediately proceeding with previously discussed ideas to implement [pot] lounges after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued Department of Justice guidance to effectively remove internal memorandums to protect states’ rights to legalize marijuana.”

The share price of the company that makes Miracle-Gro dropped. Existing non-marijuana businesses that were considering getting into pot were shaken.

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, in a talk with reporters, said he thinks Sessions is just blowing smoke.

“I think Sessions needed to check the box that said, As attorney general, I enforce all laws,’” Amodei said.

He added that there does not appear to have been movement of federal personnel preparatory to mounting an offensive against legal marijuana in the states.

That notion of Sessions’ behavior seems to have been supported by a report in the Washington Post that the attorney general has told aides he hopes media coverage of his recent moves will impress Trump, given divisions between the two men on other issues. Sessions reportedly sought to get White House officials to make sure Trump is aware of Sessions’ activities and has also matched Justice Department investigations to topics the president has raised in his public appearances.

At the Entrepreneur site, it was reported, “In reacting to Sessions’ announcement, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval—a Republican—essentially said, ’Thanks for your input. We’ll read that over.’ Colorado officials made a stoner joke. California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom called Sessions’ decision an ’ideological temper tantrum.’”

The stoner “joke” was from Colorado Senate Democrats, who posted this comment: “Our motto in 2018 is two simple words: For all.”

In an essay in the Reno Gazette-Journal last week, Truckee Meadows Herbs owner Tom Stewart wrote, “Locally, the industry has shown few problems and industry actors have displayed a willingness to self-police, play by the rules and invest in adjoining neighborhoods.” He called for Republicans and Democrats to adopt a solid front against renewed prohibition. And there are signs that one of Sessions’ two big problems is Republicans. As a Bloomberg News headline put it, “Trump’s War on Pot Could Split Republicans in 2018.”

The anti-marijuana effort is not Trump’s war, but if that kind of approach to the story catches on, Trump may seek to separate himself from the stories, the war and Sessions. President Obama tolerated U.S. attorneys in California who breached his instructions to leave localities that were in compliance with state laws alone, but Trump has shown none of the forbearance of the former president.

Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, is leading the opposition to Sessions’ pot stance, claiming Sessions failed to keep a promise to him on the issue and pledging to halt every Department of Justice nomination in the Senate until Sessions backs off.

If he was expecting praise from the Republican base, it has been muted. In the National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr., Kevin Williamson argued that while the Obama administration ignored federal law, Congress should now get rid of punitive federal laws so Sessions cannot revert to earlier harsh policies:

“The major problem is federal law, so change it. Having abandoned much of the Reagan way—the sunny disposition, free trade, the unshakeable commitment to America’s global leadership—the Trump administration has now embraced the worst of the Reagan legacy: deficits, for one thing, and the so-called war on drugs, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions means to fight with atavistic rigor.”

Another conservative publication, the American Spectator, added its voice to the anti-Sessions drumbeat: “Why was this move so foreseeable? Because Sessions is the guy who has said, among other things, that ’Good people don’t smoke marijuana,’ that marijuana is ’only slightly less awful’ than heroin, and, in reference to the KKK, that ’I thought those guys were OK until I learned they smoked pot.’ Yes, the last might be a joke, but it reveals his true mindset.”

The second big problem Sessions has is that he is threatening the financial stability of numerous state governments. Marijuana has become a golden goose at the state level faster than anyone expected, and few state legislators are amused at the notion of losing it. It is producing more than $60 million a year in tax revenue in Nevada and generating 7,000 jobs.

Many players believed Sessions was trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. In California’s Eureka Times Standard, an editorial read, “Last week, Jeff Sessions [ended] the previous administration’s wise policy of essentially leaving marijuana enforcement to the states. … If you hate marijuana, outlawing the stuff brought us years of murder, thievery, environmental degradation and heavily armed trespassers squatting in the woods, all on the taxpayer’s dime. Students of history know that Humboldt County already had more than enough of these things before prohibition. Our situation has not improved. It is time. It is long past time for California to have its say. And for Colorado. And Oregon, Washington state and Nevada. Alaska, too.”

One newspaper that knows Sessions best—Alabama’s Gadsen Times—put it this way: “[T]he response to Sessions so far has been bipartisan condemnation—we can’t suppress a big guffaw at this particular issue bridging the polarization in Washington—and a very loud, very clear ’back off.’ … Those who dismiss fears that having more stoned people out and about (and potentially driving) isn’t exactly a good thing need to get a grip. We do support states’ rights, however, unless invoking them involves the violation of a constitutional principle. We don’t think that caveat applies to states and their residents choosing, through the political process, to legalize pot in some fashion. Sessions’ boss said the same thing during the 2016 campaign. Sessions is by himself on an ice floe here.”

The Gadsen paper calls marijuana a long time pebble in Sessions’ shoe, and that may in part be because he believes all those myths about pot, such as that it fosters sloth, delusions, weird food cravings, insecurity—all the Trump attributes.