Ten days after Donald Trump became president-elect, America got one of the first indications of how a Trump administration might actually deal with cannabis. Trump’s nomination of US Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for US attorney general bode well for cannabis programs in legal states. Despite Trump’s reassurances he would respect state laws, past statements by Sessions make clear that the Alabama Republican is no friend of cannabis.
What exactly has Sessions said about cannabis in the past? Here are some of his many statements from his years in public office:
- After being nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 to fill a federal judgeship, Sessions said he was fine with the Ku Klux Klan “until I found out they smoked pot.” He later claimed the comment was a joke.
- During Senate hearing in April on the federal response to state cannabis laws, Sessions said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
- “We need grownups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” Sessions said at the April hearing. He went on to imply that even mere discussion of ending prohibition could cause a gateway, saying, “You’ll see cocaine and heroin increase more than it would have, I think, had we not talked about it.”
(Five months later, current Attorney General Loretta Lynch threw cold water on the gateway-drug theory, saying that most people addicted to dangerous substances “started out with a prescription drug problem” and adding, “It’s not as though we are seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway.”)
- Sessions been very critical of how the Obama administration has handled state cannabis legalization, stating that “his lax treatment and comments on marijuana, it’s been obvious, it reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs, begun really, when Nancy Reagan started the ‘Just Say No’ program.”
- Sessions even brought Lady Gaga into the fray, bringing up Gaga’s past addiction problems during a hearing with former Attorney General Eric Holder. “Lady Gaga said she is addicted to it and it is not harmless,” Sessions said. “I hope that you will talk with the president, you’re close with him, and begin to push back, or pull back, on this position that I think is going to be averse to the health of America.”
Despite Sessions’ harsh statements on cannabis, it’s not yet clear how Trump plans to approach state-legal cannabis markets. The appointment of Sessions is widely believed to reflect Trump’s on immigration rather than cannabis.
Trump in the past has said he believes there are benefits from medical marijuana. He’s also said he favors the rights of states to determine whether and how to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis. But his track record of going back on past statements has left advocates guessing.
If Sessions’ past statements concern you, contact your elected officials and encourage them to defend state programs. Voters legalized cannabis last Tuesday in eight of nine states where the issue was on the ballot. Our job doesn’t stop there.