Holder: Sessions’ ‘Almost Obsession’ With Cannabis Puts DOJ in ‘Strange Place’

Former Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Former US Attorney General Eric Holder took aim at current AG Jeff Sessions this week, saying Sessions has an “almost obsession” with cannabis that has put the Justice Department in a “strange place.”

Holder, who also defended the Obama administration’s stance on state-legal cannabis as “really good policy,” was speaking at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday.

“I think the policy we had in place was a good one.”
Eric Holder, Obama-era AG

Since taking office, Sessions has repeatedly lamented state-level legalization, continuing a stream of earlier statements deriding both recreational and medical use of cannabis. His office is currently reviewing the so-called Cole Memo, an Obama-era policy under which federal authorities said they wouldn’t interfere with state-legal cannabis laws provided states met certain guidelines, such as prohibiting underage sales and diversion to the illegal market.

While the Cole Memo was never binding policy—and although Holder himself signed off on a statewide crackdown on cannabis businesses in California during his time in office—it was a key piece of the federal framework that allowed state-legal programs, such as those in Colorado and Washington state, to move forward.

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“I think the policy we had in place was a good one,” Holder said, according to Washington Examiner reporter Steven Nelson. “Let the states experiment with the notion that, again, we have these eight or nine federal factors, and if you trigger one of these eight or nine factors, the feds are going to be coming in.”

Sessions in recent months has sought to make a case that legal states are in fact failing to meet those criteria, although representatives in some of those states have pushed back against his claims. The attorney general has also appealed to Congress to remove protections that prevent federal prosecutors from targeting state-legal medical marijuana.

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“The Sessions almost obsession with marijuana, I think, is the thing that’s put the Justice Department in this strange place,” Holder said.

Some activists, including Marijuana Moment writer Tom Angell, pointed out that Holder could have gone a step further by reclassifying cannabis under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Eric Holder could’ve rescheduled marijuana while in office but didn’t,” Angell wrote on Twitter.