Jeff Sessions, the drug warrior that may or may not have liked the KKK until he found out they smoked pot, is out as U.S. Attorney General. After two years of being relentlessly bullied by President Trump, Sessions has apparently had enough. The Sessions resignation is of special interest to the marijuana industry because of just how much he hates marijuana. So it’s great news that Sessions is out, right?
While it’s certainly not bad news, the real story is that it doesn’t really matter. Looking back at the Sessions era, the only truly significant act that he took regarding marijuana was the withdrawal of prior federal guidance to U.S. Attorneys regarding marijuana enforcement in January 2018. At the time, we couldn’t tell whether this was the first step in an organized crackdown on marijuana or simply a shot across the bow. As a result of the withdrawal of the prior guidance memos, discretion on whether to prosecute marijuana crimes shifted from the Department of Justice to each of the 93 U.S. Attorneys assigned to the various federal judicial districts.
But lo and behold, nothing actually changed in federal enforcement. There were rumblings out of Oregon (whose U.S. Attorney was just picked to chair the Attorney General’s Marijuana Working Group), but those rumblings led to stakeholder meetings and the issuance of detailed enforcement guidance. This is a far cry from the raids, arrests, and seizures that doom and gloom types predicted when Sessions was named Attorney General. To date, since Washington and Colorado legalized in 2012, there has not been a single instance in the United States where law enforcement has acted against a marijuana business unless it has been able to demonstrate significant violations of state law and violation of prior-stated federal enforcement priorities.
The takeaway, then, is that the cake has already been baked. With another round of state liberalization of marijuana rules, the country has continued its unstoppable march toward federal legalization/decriminalization. If the politics and logistics of enforcing federal marijuana laws against state legal businesses proved unworkable for Jeff Sessions, they are unworkable for anyone.
So celebrate – the Sessions era is over and hopefully we don’t have to sit through any more scoldings from the Attorney General trying to tie marijuana to the opioid epidemic. But even though we may be wrong, we think the real story of the Sessions era is that the fear of widespread federal enforcement of drug laws against state-legal actors will never come to fruition.