GOP Opponent of New Pot Enforcement Explains States' Rights to Sessions

JP Noda stocks cannabis at The Apothecarium shortly before the store opened for its first day of recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 6, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

WASHINGTON — The face-off between legalized pot states and Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t abating after a GOP senator tried to talk to Sessions about the importance of states’ rights.

In a memo sent to federal prosecutors last week, Sessions said that Congress has determined “marijuana is a dangerous drug” and “marijuana activity is a serious crime.”

“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” Sessions wrote. “…Given the Department’s well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”

That previous guidance includes a 2013 Justice Department memo to U.S. attorneys after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for personal use. “Based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department has informed the governors of both states that it is deferring its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time,” the DOJ said then.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) announced upon release of the news that he was “prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”

On Wednesday, Gardner and Sessions met. “I reiterated my concern that states’ rights were being infringed on through this action and we agreed to continue talks,” the senator said in a statement afterward. “I also hope to expand these discussions with the Justice Department to include several of my Democrat and Republican colleagues about what steps can be taken legislatively to protect Colorado’s rights.”

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday with Gardner, where they discussed legislative options to counter Sessions’ move.

Gardner told an NPR reporter that “there was no breakthrough yet” with Sessions, “but I hope there will be.”

“I have not changed my decision to hold these nominations until we have a commitment that lives up to what I believe was given to me prior to the confirmation,” he said, telling the news agency that Sessions downplayed the new pot enforcement rules during the meeting.

Gardner, who opposed legalization of marijuana in his home state, stressed that it boils down to states’ rights.

“The people of Colorado decided to do this,” he said. “In fact, I’m pretty sure if the election were held again today, it’d probably pass with an even higher margin today than it did just several years ago.”