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OPED: Sessions should respect states' policies on pot
Supporters gather at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building to promote the legalization of medical cannabis in Harrisburg, Pa. on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of legal marijuana, may be planning a federal crackdown on the cannabis industry. That's bad news not just for people like me who rely on marijuana as medicine, but for the country.
Twenty-nine states, along with Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam, have legalized medical marijuana; eight of those states (plus D.C.) also allow adult "recreational" use. And support for legal marijuana is growing.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 94 percent of Americans now favor legalizing medical cannabis under a doctor's care, and 61 percent support legalizing recreational use.
Earlier this month, Sessions' Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety issued a report that offered no policy recommendations to advance the attorney general's antagonistic position on pot. But Sessions could disregard the prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials who made up this group.
As a longtime cannabis activist in Wisconsin, one of the minority of states that still prohibits even medicinal use, I touched base with some national cannabis legalization advocates for their thoughts on this matter.
"I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, in Washington, D.C. He feels that Sessions, who once declared that "good people don't smoke marijuana," will find ways to "throw a monkey wrench into the regulatory systems in place in the full legalization states."
But Justin Strekal, NORML's political director, warns that would come at a cost.
"If Jeff Sessions was surprised at the blowback he received when he said earlier this year that he does not support legal access for adults," Strekal says, "he will be both dazed and confused by the forces that will align against him should he choose to disregard the public will and crack down on the regulated marijuana market."
Tom Angell, chairman of the national advocacy group Marijuana Majority, agrees.
"If Sessions is planning a crackdown, it's going to create even more political problems for an already beleaguered administration," he told me. "The president promised repeatedly during the campaign to respect local marijuana policies, and huge majorities of voters — across party lines — support letting states implement their own laws without federal interference. This is a fight that the administration should not want to pick."
A government crackdown, Angell says, would overturn tightly regulated state systems that generate tax revenue and create jobs and "put the marijuana market back into the hands of cartels and gangs." He calls it "an enormous blow to public health and safety."
The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators has just adopted a resolution reaffirming its support for legalized marijuana. State officials who initially opposed legalization now support it. In March, a bipartisan group of senators urged Sessions to maintain existing marijuana policies.
That is still good advice. The federal government would be better off focusing on real priorities, rather than wasting resources targeting state-legal marijuana.
— Gary Storck is a longtime Wisconsin medical cannabis patient, activist, speaker and writer who blogs at Cannabadger.com.