Trump vs. marijuana

Most states have approved medical use of marijuana, and eight states plus D.C. have made the plant legal outright. All this was fostered by a 2013 document called the Cole Memorandum issued by the Obama administration that set marijuana priorities for federal prosecutors. It discouraged the use of federal resources to enforce cannabis prohibition in jurisdictions whose own laws conflicted with federal law and encouraged a hands-off approach.

On Jan 4, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo and replaced it with a new, harsher policy memo. That flies in the face of Donald Trump’s own policy. Former Reno reporter Brandon Rittiman, now a Colorado journalist, asked Trump during the campaign about the chance that his attorney general might try to crack down on marijuana.

“I wouldn’t do that, no,” Trump said. “I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.” But he has not reeled in Sessions.

When asked if the Nevada Legislature would have an appetite for ordering an end to in-state law enforcement cooperation with federal enforcement of marijuana law, Clark County Sen. Richard “Tick” Segerblom said, “If Sessions is still attorney general in 2019, I think it would have a good chance.” The state lawmakers will not meet again until 2019.

Also last week, Sessions announced the appointment of Dayle Elieson of Texas to come to Nevada to serve as interim U.S. attorney. A Sessions statement accompanying the appointment suggests he wants her to step up anti-drug enforcement.

“United States Attorneys lead federal prosecutions across this country, taking deadly drugs and criminals off of our streets and protecting the safety of law-abiding people, as well as representing the United States in civil litigation,” Sessions said in a prepared statement on Elieson’s appointment.

No explanation was given for why Sessions imported a non-Nevadan to serve in the interim spot until a permanent replacement is found, but it may signal that he does not trust a Nevada-based appointee to carry out his policies. During the second Bush administration, Republican appointee David Bogden was removed as Nevada’s U.S. attorney for unstated reasons. It may have had something to do with the fact that Bogden and his aides were unable to locate the voter fraud that senior political figures in the administration insisted must be present.

Sessions is not well informed on effects of marijuana, comparing it to heroin and blaming it for violence. Marijuana impedes violent impulses. The frequency of violence committed by someone under the influence of marijuana is normally far below that of legal alcohol.

Nevada officials have roundly denounced Sessions’ action, though he is correct that cannabis use remains illegal under federal law. The Obama administration preferred to duck a fight with state governments, while the Trump administration seems to be courting one.

“It’s not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we’re able.”

He said further, the Cole Memo “was interpreted as a safe harbor for individuals,” Sessions said. “This [new] memo does not have safe harbors in it.”