The legal limbo between the federal U.S. government and individual states that have approved medical and/or recreational cannabis wasn’t made any less murky yesterday when President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general dodged questions about his planned approach during the first day of his confirmation hearing.
Alabama senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who famously told a Senate hearing last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” was vague on how he’d approach medical marijuana statutes and said he “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law.”
The 70-year-old did say that some of the guidelines in the 2013 Cole Memo were “truly valuable,” but he left open a window for possible future enforcement and said those guidelines “may not have been followed.”
“One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession [of cannabis] in every state and distribution an illegal act,” Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule – it is not the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”
Bob Capecchi, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of federal policies, said in a news release that Sessions “was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach and he passed on it.”
Capecchi added it was “promising” that Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, noted during a Fox News interview last night that Sessions will be carrying out Trump’s agenda on cannabis instead of making his own policy.
“When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda you’re implementing and not your own,” Spicer told Outnumbered host Lisa Kennedy. “I think Sen. Sessions is well aware of that.”
Capecchi noted that Trump has previously said cannabis should be a states’ rights issue, meaning it’s possible his administration will leave cannabis policy up to the states and the Department of Justice will take a hands-off approach.
“Considering both Sen. Sessions and Mr. Spicer’s comments, we remain cautiously optimistic that the incoming administration will continue the current policy of not interfering with individuals and entities acting in compliance with state marijuana laws,” Capecchi said.