Jeff Sessions' Medical Marijuana memo is not what America needs

Opinion: The Attorney General's marijuana policy is backwards and dangerous.

Published June 17, 2017 5:59AM (EDT)

Jeff Sessions   (Getty/Mark Wilson/AP/Seth Perlman/Photo montage by Salon)
Jeff Sessions (Getty/Mark Wilson/AP/Seth Perlman/Photo montage by Salon)

This post originally appeared on The Fresh Toast.

Fresh Toast

While Attorney General Jeff Sessions was making headlines on Tuesday testifying before a Congressional committee regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election, another controversy erupted over cannabis laws.

In the May 1 letter, first unveiled on Monday night by Tom Angell at Massroots, Sessions claims the policy under the Obama administration “inhibits [the Justice Department’s] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.”

Sessions clearly wants to remove federal marijuana protections in states that have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical consumption. Not only is that an economic error, it is a direct slap in the face to American patients.

Sessions, in his letter to Congress, writes:

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

The memo is a broadside attack on the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to enforce marijuana laws in states that have passed legalization.


Sessions, who has been one of the most ardent drug warriors in recent American history (he is on record saying “good people don’t smoke marijuana), is wrong on multiple levels. His letter disrespects a number of Americans and is simply not rooted in science. He also appears to be ignoring the will of the people, thumbing his nose at states’ rights and denying a booming new industry.

Here are just some of the reasons the congressional leaders should put ignore the letter and return to sender:

An Affront To Social Justice

America’s long-running War on Drugs has produced drastically unequal outcomes across racial groups. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, and yet it incarcerates 25 percent  of the world’s prisoners. Yes, America — not China or Russia — us the world’s leading jailer.

For African-American men between the ages of 20 and 29, nearly one-third are currently in the  criminal justice system. Whites and blacks use drugs at almost exactly the same rates. Blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.

And it’s not just time behind bars that is the issue; an arrest damages the lives of many people of color. The eligibility for public housing and student financial aid, employment opportunities, child custody determinations, and immigration status are at risk because of the unequal nature of our legal system.

It Disrespects Patients And Veterans In Need

It is difficult to come up with a definitive number of people who medicate with cannabis. According to a recent tabulation, there were roughly 2.6 million legal patients across the country. But since many patients do not want to publicly admit to breaking a federal law or are squeamish about adding their names to a registry, which some states require.

A recent survey from Yahoo News and Marist University revealed that 55 million Americans currently consume cannabis and 52 percent over 18 have tried marijuana at least once. That means, under Sessions’ logic, half of the U.S. population have broken the law and 55 million of us are subject to arrest.



But let’s just focus on those patients who rely on cannabis as medicine.

The American people have spoken and called for marijuana to be another tool in their arsenal to alleviate some pretty horrible systems. Research shows the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment of a wide number of illness.

Opioid painkillers are responsible for more than 20,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. every year. For many of our veterans, this is the only treatment plan approved by the Veterans Administration. Each day, 22 veterans will commit suicide, usually because of severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many veterans groups and health advocates have urged the VA to allow cannabis to be a medicinal option for our brave men and women.

It’s Not Rooted In Science Or Available Data

When Sessions refers to the “historic drug epidemic” in his letter, he appears to conflate opioids with cannabis. Not only is this not rooted in any science, it is absurd on its face.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that death by opioids decreases in states that allow medical marijuana programs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Some preliminary studies have suggested that medical marijuana legalization might be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and overdose deaths. … Additionally, data suggests that medical marijuana treatment may reduce the opioid dose prescribed for pain patients, and a recent study showed that availability of medical marijuana for Medicare patients reduced prescribing of medications, including opioids, for their pain.

Sessions’ claim clearly suggests he has not done his homework. His actions could make the already alarming opiate crisis even more dire.

It Is An Economic Mistake

The cannabis industry is a juggernaut for the American economy. In 2017, total demand for the herb is estimated to be $50 billion.

report from New Frontier Data released earlier this year predicts that there will be more than 250,000 new jobs created by the industry in the next three years. Cannabis industry now employs between 165,000 to 230,000 full and part-time employees.

States that have legalized cannabis have discovered a massive revenue stream that it simply did not have a few years ago. As the market matures, there will be more tax dollars collected to help the public good.



And we might save some of the roughly $4 billion a year that the U.S. spends enforcing marijuana laws.

It Runs Counter To The Will Of The American People

Far be it from me to give political advice to Sessions, a career politician. But the War on Marijuana has been an abject failure and the American people know it.

A Quinnipiac poll released in April showed that  94 percent of the public support medical marijuana. About three out of four Americans say they do not want the government enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it either medically or recreationally.

Bottom Line: If Sessions moves forward with his proposal, it will set America back.



By JJ McKay