Sessions is historically anti-marijuana, but during his confirmation hearing he admitted that “disrupting states’ legal marijuana markets by enforcing federal marijuana laws could create an undue strain on federal resources…it is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.” Not exactly a clear message.
But California and many other states are continuing forward legalizing marijuana for recreational use and working on legislation to help get the cannabis industry up and running — with continued momentum while the new administration sets policy.
So, will there be a standoff? It’s still too early to tell exactly how things will play out, but some congressional on both sides of the aisle are planning additional proactive measures.
Recently, US Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) joined with six other Republicans and six Democrats to introduce bipartisan legislation aptly named the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 (also known as H.R.975).
Realizing that the Attorney General can set the policies, and wary of Sessions taking a tough stance against cannabis, the bill focuses on states’ rights above federal enforcement. And they don’t want another hard-liner like former Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh turning back the clock on marijuana laws that have already been passed by voters.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, Thornburgh pushed federal prosecutors involved in drug cases to file the most serious charges possible, with the most severe penalties. This was during both the Reagan and Bush administrations when there was a zero-tolerance policy toward narcotics of any kind. Their concern is that states like California, who are following through with legalized marijuana, would then find their laws overturned with the money and manpower that went into putting them in place being lost.
H.R. 975 bill reads: ‘‘Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.’’
In a nutshell, this bill would stop Sessions, or any other federal official, from prosecuting individuals and businesses for violating the Controlled Substances Act in the 29 states that permit either the medical, or recreational, use and distribution of marijuana.
Will states’ rights win out, as with the issue of transgender bathrooms? It’s a complicated question that’s being played out moment by moment, as cannabis proponents wait, watch and worry.