Trump Picks Jeff Sessions For AG: Is Legal Marijuana in Danger?

President-elect Donald Trump introduces Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, his pick for Attorney General, during a Mobile rally

President-elect Donald Trump introduces Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, his pick for Attorney General, during a Mobile rally | Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

The 2016 election was wild and unpredictable. Donald Trump’s election blindsided just about everyone, and many people are still trying to come to terms with it. But if one thing went as expected, it was voter behavior as it relates to marijuana. After election day, eight new states had legalized marijuana — four them for recreational use. Only Arizona voters opted not to legalize, and given America’s shifting attitudes toward pot, the results are more or less what we expected.

The big question, however, is how the new president is going to approach legalization. The Obama administration has let states figure it out on their own. The feds have basically opted to sit by and not enforce federal law. But Trump? We don’t really know what his plans are. He can, if he chooses, pull the plug on the whole thing.

This has many people on edge. If legalization is shut down, jobs and investments will be lost. People will start going back to jail. And seeing as how most Americans now favor ending prohibition, it’ll generally lead to some ugly outcomes.

The President-elect has started assembling his administration, possibly giving us a clue to how he’ll handle legal marijuana in coming years. He’s tapped Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General — a top conservative who’s been in the Senate since 1997.

So — good news, or bad news for pot legalization?

Jeff Sessions: Friendly to marijuana legalization?

Sen. Jeff Sessions talks with reporters after a briefing

Sen. Jeff Sessions talks with reporters after a briefing | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sessions is an older conservative — putting him in or near the only demographic that still opposes legalization. He’s a former assistant U.S. Attorney and has a bit of a controversial past. According to NBC News, the Senate blocked him from taking over for a federal judge position after he was accused of making racist comments.

Also, during a 1981 murder case tied to the KKK, Sessions reportedly said that he, “‘Used to think they [the KKK] were OK’ until he found out some were ‘pot smokers.'”

That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

While Trump himself has said his intentions are to let the states continue to figure out legalization on their own, Sessions might bring down the federal hammer. Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, told The Cheat Sheet that we still don’t have a clear idea of which way things are going to swing.

“While the choice certainly isn’t good news for marijuana reform, I’m still hopeful the new administration will realize that any crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don’t need and will use lots of political capital they’d be better off spending on issues the new president cares a lot more about,” Angell said.
“The truth is, marijuana reform is much more popular with voters than most politicians are, and officials in the new administration would do well to take a careful look at the polling data on this issue before deciding what to do,” he added.

What should you expect?

An array of marijuana samples are seen on a table

An array of marijuana samples are seen on a table | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

What has Sessions had to say on the topic of marijuana legalization? Nothing that’s going to comfort legalization advocates.

Sessions has been a vocal opponent to the way the Obama administration has handled the issue. During a Senate hearing on the federal response to state marijuana laws, Sessions said (at about 43:30 in the video), “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

It gets worse.

Discussing Obama’s approach to legalization, Sessions said, “His lax treatment and comments on marijuana, it’s been obvious, it reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs, begun really, when Nancy Reagan started the ‘Just Say No’ program.”

“We need grown ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” he said. “You’ll see cocaine and heroin increase more than it would have, I think, had we not talked about it.”

This, of course, conflicts with the reality that marijuana is not dangerous — at least not nearly as dangerous as other drugs, including alcohol. Sessions, however, seems steadfast in his belief that cannabis is a dangerous drug that needs to remain outlawed. The question is whether that belief will translate to action. Would he be willing to unleash the DEA and pull the plug on legalization, though it’s clear most Americans support it?

We don’t know. But if you support marijuana legalization, Sessions’ appointment is cause for concern.

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