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Trump Fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Published on November 7, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
(AP, Leafly)

In a startling move, President Trump this morning fired US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Technically, Sessions resigned by submitting a letter to the President. It was clear, however, that the move was forced by Trump.

Sessions, who has been under intense criticism from the President ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation, submitted his letter of resignation one day after the midterm elections moved the House of Representatives under Democratic control.

Technically, Sessions resigned by submitting a letter to the President. It was clear, however, that the move was forced by Trump.

“Dear Mr. President, at your request I am submitting my resignation,” Sessions wrote in his letter.

Sessions will be immediately replaced by Matthew G. Whittaker, previously Sessions’ chief of staff at the Justice Department. Whittaker will be the Acting AG until the President appoints a permanent replacement, who will need to be approved by the Senate.

The New York Times noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “would normally be in line to become the acting attorney general, but Mr. Trump has complained publicly about Mr. Rosenstein, too.”

A Vocal Opponent of Legalization

Since the day he was appointed to the office by President-elect Trump in late 2016, Sessions has been an outspoken critic of cannabis legalization in all of its forms.

During an event in June 2017, Sessions was asked why he supports “pretty harsh penalties for marijuana and pretty lax gun control laws,” when “statistically guns kill significantly more people than marijuana does.” Sessions answered by noting that “marijuana is not a healthy substance.”

“I don’t think America’s going to be a better place if marijuana’s sold in every corner grocery store,” he added.

Prior to his appointment as attorney general, Sessions scoffed at the use of medical marijuana and claimed that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

All Talk, Limited Action

Sessions talked a big game, but never directly attacked state cannabis legalization laws through the Justice Department.

His boldest move was to rescind the Cole Memo, an Obama-era policy advisory that allowed states like Colorado and Washington (and now eight others) to proceed with state-regulated cannabis legalization. The loss of that memo and its policies, however, did not result in a widespread crackdown on cannabis businesses that abided by state rules and regulations.

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In fact, local US Attorneys have lately shown an inclination to prosecute cases involving cannabis that fall outside the rules and regs of legal states, thereby shoring up the state-legal system and removing bad actors who undermine the legal industry.

‘We Have Operated With Integrity’

In his forced resignation letter, Sessions seemed to point out the distance between President Trump’s words and actions. “The team we assembled” at the Justice Department, Sessions noted, “embraced your directive to be a law and order Department of Justice.”

“Most importantly, in my time as Attorney General we have restored and upheld the rule of law—a glorious tradition that each of us has a responsibility to safeguard. We have operated with integrity and have lawfully and aggressively advanced the policy agenda of this administration.”

The one thing Sessions did not do was protect Trump from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Sessions recused himself early on from that investigation, as is standard protocol for an attorney general who might have a conflict of interest in the matter. It was a move that Trump never seemed to accept, and one that irritated the President, it seemed, almost daily.

Here’s Sessions’ resignation letter in its entirety:

Last Man Standing (Against Cannabis)

Sessions seemed to embody the drug war dead-enders who would listen to no evidence, scientific or otherwise, when it came to cannabis. While others of his generation—notably Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)—came to change their opinion on medical marijuana and state legalization, respectively, Sessions continued to treat the entire issue as a hippie’s delusion.

He was joined in that position by many local sheriffs organizations, which also remain a lonely stronghold of anti-cannabis sentiment. Those sheriffs departments also have been the most lucrative recipients of civil asset forfeitures based on cannabis possession, and also have been among the greatest abusers of the controversial mechanism.

Glad To See Him Go

Many cannabis legalization advocates expressed surprise and relief at today’s announcement. Cannabis Now writer Jimi Devine captured the prevailing mood:

Politicians who battled him on legalization matters pulled no punches in their closing remarks. US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longtime advocate for cannabis legalization and drug law reform, said:

“Jeff Sessions is one of the worst Attorneys General we’ve ever had. Time and time again, he attempted to impose his own views which did not match the majority of the American people when it came to reforming our outdated marijuana laws. I look forward to working with our new majority in the House to finally end the federal government’s policy of prohibition, which continues to ruin lives—and disproportionately the lives of people of color.”

America Moved Away From Him

A record 66% of US voters support full adult-use legalization, and more than half have tried cannabis. More than 90% of Americans support the legal use of medical marijuana. Cannabis retailers are some of the most regulated businesses in America. In progressive California, for example, 65% of cities ban cannabis retail.

Sessions publicly doubted legal cannabis could blunt the impact of the US opioid epidemic, even as more studies emerge indicating that legalization could help calm the crisis.

“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger,” Sessions once said.

Now other grown-ups will be in charge in Washington. It’s unclear whether they will spend so much time and energy fighting to hold back the tide.

Bye Bye Buy

Meanwhile, investor confidence in the cannabis sector overall took a wild leap on the news of Sessions’ ouster.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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