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The Haymaker: Which Patients Will Sessions ‘Come After’ First?

June 13, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about his role in the firing of James Comey, his Russian contacts during the campaign and his decision to recuse from an investigation into possible ties between Moscow and associates of President Donald Trump. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a new weekly politics-and-culture column, ‘The Haymaker,’ by Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott. 

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came on like an elfin Liam Neeson:

“Just last week, it was reported that overdose deaths in this country are rising faster than ever recorded. The murder rate is up over 10 percent—the largest increase since 1968. Together, we are telling the gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters, and the terrorists: We are coming after you.”

Trump and Sessions: They will look for you, they will find you, and they will…well, they can’t legally go full Liam and kill you with a car door. But the threat of arrest and prosecution is real.

‘We are coming after you.’ (Alex Brandon/AP)

On its face, Sessions’ vow is right and good. Yes! Go after the gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters and the terrorists. That’s what the Department of Justice should do.

The problem comes when you realize that in the mind of Jeff Sessions, the millions of American patients who rely on medical marijuana fall under the attorney general’s broad definition of “criminal.” And he wants to come after them. By which I mean, he wants to come after us.

Related

Introducing ‘The Haymaker,’ Leafly’s Politics & Culture Column. This Week: Sessions Out?

No Ambiguity at the Justice Dept.

President Trump’s thoughts on medical marijuana are about as nebulous as a covfefe, but at the Justice Department the policy set by Sessions seems clear. Cannabis is illegal, period.

A couple hours before the Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence committee on Tuesday, in fact, his second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, drew a bright line during his own testimony before the Senate Appropriations committee.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: 'Marijuana is an unlawful drug.' (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: ‘Marijuana is an unlawful drug.’ (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Rosenstein told the committee that “from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I.” (Of course, if we looked at it from a scientific perspective marijuana wouldn’t be scheduled at all. But that’s a column for another day.) Rosenstein vowed to enforce federal law, which holds that cannabis is illegal. “[That] is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.” Any questions?

‘Use All Laws Available’

Today’s double-whammy testimony came about 24 hours after the publication of a letter Sessions wrote to Congressional leaders last month, asking them to allow the Justice Department to arrest and prosecute patients in states where medical cannabis is legal.

Medical marijuana is part of the solution to America's opioid death spiral, not its cause.

Since late 2014, federal prosecutors have been prohibited from doing so because of the Rohrabacher-Farr (now Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) amendment, which Congress re-authorizes every year. It’s not a change in criminal law, it’s a budgetary restriction: The DoJ may not use any of its budget to pursue medical marijuana cases.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Those two sentences contain a critical—and deadly—conflation. We are indeed in the midst of a historic drug epidemic…of opioid abuse. Every month, more research points to the conclusion that legalizing medical marijuana lowers opioid abuse and overdose death rates. Medical marijuana is part of the solution to America’s opioid death spiral, not its cause.

Related

Jeff Sessions Asks Congress to End Medical Cannabis Protections

Combat Opioids, Not Cannabis

Around 60,000 Americans died from drug overdose last year.  Zero died from marijuana use. And yet Sessions clings to the fantasy that re-criminalizing medical marijuana will stop our friends, neighbors, and co-workers from killing themselves with fentanyl. 93 percent of Americans believe medical marijuana should be legal. Sessions remains among the the 7 percenters, the last hardened holdouts.

Sessions remains among the 7 percenters, the last hardened holdouts.

Why? Because to Sessions, drugs are drugs. They’re all bad. And crime is crime. Are medical cannabis providers gangsters or criminal masterminds? Of course not. Look at who the Justice Department prosecuted for medical marijuana in the years before Rohrabacher-Farr: Steve DeAngelo, the founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, and Lynette Shaw, founder of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the first licensed medical marijuana dispensary in the United States. These are not terrorists or dangerous drug traffickers. They are neighbors who run successful health stores.

Though it took years, both eventually beat the feds. Harborside Health is thriving. DeAngelo is now a bestselling author, Fortune magazine cover subject, and revered cannabis entrepreneur. After being shut down for years, Shaw announced this week that she’s re-opening the Marin Alliance on June 15.

Related

5 Reasons Why Jeff Sessions’ Drug War Reboot Will Fail

Who to Arrest First?

Who will Sessions be “coming after” if Congress kills Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, which is up for re-authorization in September? Seriously. Who would federal prosecutors attempt to send to prison? I can think of a few top-level candidates:

Perry Parks, the decorated Vietnam war veteran and church usher who manages his PTSD with medical cannabis in his home state of North Carolina, where it is illegal.

Perry Parks, ready to testify. (Chuck Sauls/YouTube)

Parks would be happy to take the stand and talk about the tens of thousands of fellow veterans who’ve used medical marijuana to wean themselves off their soul-killing VA-prescribed opioid cocktails. He’ll tell you about the states that have accepted PTSD as a qualifying MMJ condition, and go into detail about the promising research being done on cannabinoids, memory, and sleep. He’ll introduce as evidence his copy of TIME magazine’s special issue, “Marijuana Goes Main Street,” signed by President Trump himself. (Perry’s there on page 31.)

Carey S. Clark, the Maine nurse who worked to pass adult-use legalization in her home state last fall. I don’t know if Clarke is an MMJ patient or works with them. I do know that she’s the president of the American Cannabis Nurses Association, which makes her an excellent symbolic target for prosecution.

Carey S. Clark, a nurse who isn't afraid to talk about cannabis.

Carey S. Clark, a nurse who isn’t afraid to talk about cannabis.

Maybe federal prosecutors should go after her and her fellow nurses, who have known since the 1970s that cannabis can offer real relief to cancer patients suffering from pain and nausea.

Bruno Stillo, the 5-year-old Miami boy who uses cannabis oil—with THC—to control his intractable seizures.

Before going to a Halloween event at Jacel Delgadillo's daughter's school, she and Bruno share a moment together in the family's living room in Miami, FL on Friday, October 28, 2016. "It’s like magic now," Delgadillo said about how attentive Bruno has become, "i honestly thought before that he didn’t know I was his mom. I feel like he knows now." By Scott McIntyre

Bruno and mom Jacel: Miami fighters. (Scott McIntyre/Leafly)

If the feds are uncomfortable with the optics of kindergarten prosecution, they could go after Bruno’s mother, Jacel Delgadillo, the co-founder of the brave parent group CannaMoms.

Allen Peake, the conservative Republican lawmaker who provides cannabis oil to Georgia parents who can’t otherwise obtain it.

Georgia Rep. Allen Peake (R - Macon). (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Georgia Rep. Allen Peake (R – Macon). (David Goldman/AP)

Peake has fought for, and passed, Georgia’s landmark cannabis oil laws, so the feds could probably get him on a three-fer: Cannabis possession, distribution, and conspiracy to aid and abet same.

Lori Ajax, head of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

Lori Ajax: California cannabis regulator. (Courtesy of California Department of Consumer Affairs)

If we’re talking about drug gangs and organized crime, how about this: Ajax aids and abets the distribution of medical marijuana as part of an organization—the State of California—that employs about 235,000 people. That’s one hell of a cartel.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, co-author of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. Why not go directly to the source?

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., left, accompanied by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., left, accompanied by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

Rohrabacher, a staunch Trump supporter and deep-red conservative, is one of cannabis legalization’s greatest advocates. He’s also spoken publicly of his use of medical marijuana in our nation’s capital, which he took because it gave him relief from arthritis pain. Personally, I’m hoping for this one. Sessions v. Rohrabacher would surely make an epic court drama.

I’m sure Jeff Sessions doesn’t think these are the characters running America’s medical marijuana “cartel.” In his mind there may be freaky-haired hippies or swarthy ne’er-do-wells out of a 1950s bijou double-feature. But in reality there is no medical marijuana cartel. The people pictured above are the regular folks who care for patients or use medical marijuana in responsible ways to stop seizures, relieve pain, or sleep at night. They are old and young, conservative and liberal. If Jeff Sessions met some of them, and listened, he might change his mind. He might direct his department to focus on actual violent gangs, cartels, and terrorists. And allow the American people to find relief in a safe, effective, accepted and increasingly legal medicine.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

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.

View Bruce Barcott's articles

  • medcannabis1

    With all due respect… this article is nothing but fear mongering and not the right approach to discuss the push by AG Sessions to return to the days of prohibition and persecution of the sick and dying. The FIRST industry players that will draw the ire of the ” prohibitionist profiteers” will be the rec stores in the states that have moved forward out of the dark of prohibition. Sessions has invested into the private prison industry as many of the Southern good old boys in Congress have done. They are seeking a return to keeping those industries filled to capacity with non violent cannabis criminals that supply these prisons for profit.
    Here are the faces of the medical cannabis debate.. starting with our Veteran community suffering from PTSD and war related injuries http://www.veteransforcompassionatecare.org
    The sick and suffering who are in hospice and dealing with palliative care issues https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4el6EGqcUw
    We the People must hold our elected officials accountable for supporting a return to the dark days of prohibition, making it clear that to support prohibition is a career ending vote. NO POLITICIAN IS WORTHY OF PUBLIC SERVICE IF THEY SUPPORT CANNABIS PROHIBITION.
    Perry Parks is an excellent man who has served this nation and represents the cannabis debate with dignity and clarity.
    The AG would focus on the revenue giants such as Harborside and the DeAngelo Brothers, the large scale operators out of CO who promote the ” party environment” over the sick and suffering.
    Those of us who have fought for the right to care for the sick and suffering in Federal Court understand that if you do things correctly and transparently the Federal Government has been known to be compassionate to the suffering.
    Get out and call your elected officials and let them know their jobs are on the line if they support a return to the draconian laws of oppression of cannabis prohibition.

    • Linda

      Washington: 2004 Federal Drug Seizures

      Cocaine: 310.0 kgs.

      Heroin: 24.1 kgs.

      Methamphetamine: 73.0 kgs.

      Marijuana: 8,382.6 kgs.

      Ecstasy: 162,661 tablets

      Methamphetamine Laboratories: 391 (DEA, state, and local)

      State Facts

      Population: 5,987,973

      Law Enforcement Officers: 11,304

      State Prison Population: 28,300

      Probation Population: 165,711

      Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 30

      Alabama: 2004 Federal Drug Seizures

      Cocaine: 220.7 kgs.

      Heroin: 2.0 kgs.

      Methamphetamine: 3.8 kgs.

      Marijuana: 1,075.5 kgs.

      Ecstasy: 0 tablets

      Methamphetamine Laboratories: 296 (DEA, state, and local)

      State Facts

      Population: 4,464,356

      Law Enforcement Officers: 11,378

      State Prison Population: 37,300

      Probation Population: 39,697

      Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 21

      Colorado: State Facts

      Population: 4,417,714

      Law Enforcement Officers: 11,807

      State Prison Population: 28,800

      Probation Population: 55,218

      Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 27

      2004 Federal Drug Seizures

      Cocaine: 36.0 kgs.

      Heroin: 4.6 kgs.

      Methamphetamine: 28.8 kgs.

      Marijuana: 774.6 kgs.

      Ecstasy: 0 tablets

      Methamphetamine Laboratories: 144 (DEA, state, and local

  • 360dunk

    How incredibly stupid does D.A. Rod Rosenstein sound claiming that marijuana is properly scheduled as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value? Who appoints these mouth-breathing Neanderthals and why doesn’t the appointment come with a muzzle? Stop trying to impose your tired beliefs on U.S. citizens, Rosen-stupid. We’ve been lied to by other political hacks like you for years and we’re not accepting it any longer. People like Rosenstein will end up with an agonizing ailment one day and maybe then they will wake up and see the benefits of this UNALTERED plant. What a blithering idiot.

  • Sonya Lea

    How likely is this to pass when people’s grandmothers are using it, and staying functional, and out of pain? I can’t imagine the level of idiocy it would take to have this approach to drug policy.

    • Phatbiker

      There seems to be a very high level of idiocy in the US, after all Trump became president.

      • Walter Schwenk

        the trump-hatred is getting a bit tired. At least now we got the grown men out of the girls restroom.

  • Dukie

    If you consider a plant, a crime than you are truly godless!!

  • Linda

    If you look up the statistics for drug abuse in Alabama they are alarming as compared to several other states like Colorado or Oregon. Jeff Session should go home and clean up his own state before pushing his religious charged beliefs on the rest of the country. Alabama has a huge prison population for the number of citizens it has. Draw your own conclusions but I came away with the feeling that it’s not a state I want to live in. If Jeff Session wants to clean up the drug problems in this country he might want to take a look at the medical professionals who are prescribing the stuff like candy and educate himself on the benefits of cannabis use for pain, cancer, MS etc. but he won’t. His words: “Good people don’t use marijuana” he’s view are from the stone age. Rich white old men running this country right into the ground.

    • Gary Craig

      Alabama is a state I wouldn’t want to pass through! Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio are just a few states I “wouldn’t want to pass through.”

      • Chris Impton

        What the hell is wrong with Ohio, buddy? That’s where I’M from.

        • lovingc

          Evil cops.

          • Chris Impton

            Ah, gotcha.

  • HappySmoke Hancho

    Just how much ignorance and tyranny are “WE THE PEOPLE” supposed to accept? Sessions claims that good people don’t smoke pot? Apparently George Washington wasn’t a very good person since he said “cultivate the Indian hemp seed at every opportunity.” Abraham Lincoln it seems was another lost druggie because he said “there’s nothing I like better than to sit on my front porch and smoke a sweet bowl of hemp while I play my Honner harmonica.” There was a day in this country when “We the people” actually meant something but today its “you the people, we the government.” They are deliberately and with malice of for-thought choose to ignore the will of the American public for reasons that can only be explained by their greed and obvious ignorance! I am disgusted and disheartened to be forced to live by the rules of ignorant bigots who only spout their opinions but choose to ignore the scientific and medical facts about Cannabis. Our government’s handling of Cannabis only highlights how completely out of touch these hypocrites are with “We the people” and with the reality that Cannabis is beneficial and its here to stay! You are NOT a doctor Mr. Sessions, LEAVE US ALONE!!

  • julioinglasses

    Cannabis was placed in Schedule 1 as a purely temporary measure pending the Shaffer Commission report, which recommended it not even be scheduled, rather the recommendation was to treat it like alcohol. Oh no, President Nixon said, leave it Schedule 1 to retain the hammer on anti-war hippies and inner city blacks…so, there is no support for Rosenstein’s contention that it was “properly scheduled!”

  • lovingc

    Hopefully Sessionss is going to be too busy covering his own ass to harass anyone else. He will likely lose his law license and do a little time in the grey bar motel with his new cell mate Big Bubba, he thinks Jeffy is pretty.

  • FlunkedAgain

    Maybe Jeff Sessions will cause the 2nd secession.

    “”
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
    “”

    Jeff Sessions for Lawn Gnome.

  • rosiewlf

    Sessions wants MJ enforced because it provides slaves for his prisons. Inmates work for 20 cents an hour doing everything from manufacturing to marketing. It’s institutionalized slavery plain and simple. It’s no accident the “war on drugs” was born on the heels of the civil rights movement.

  • Herman A

    Sessions might just subpoena the medical cannabis patient records and go door-to-door, rounding up any person in possession of a doctor’s recommendation for pot use. Sessions will arrest them, to eventually serve a multiple decade prison sentence.

  • Tony Aroma

    Government employees are exempt from prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act. Just like a police officer is not guilty of possession when he confiscates illegal drugs, other local authorities are likewise safe if acting in their official capacity. Anyone who threatens state employees for doing their job has never read the CSA.

  • Danny Bradshaw

    I don’t think we can change Sessions mind just keep up the fight

    • lovingc

      Sessionss is a crook and will be a felon after the investigations are done and the courts are thru. He has lied to congress, and failed to correctly list his russian contacts. That is two 5 year felony’s. There will be more later, if he is not fired.

  • I would prefer Hillary Clinton as President for the next 8 years, case closed.

  • lovingc

    No body, congress wont give the idiot any money to carry out his personal program.