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Sessions Calls Cole Memo ‘Valid,’ Says Fed Resources Are Limited

March 16, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions gestures during a news conference after a speech before law enforcement officers in Richmond, VA, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (Steve Helber/AP)
Jeff Sessions might hate cannabis, but he sure seems to like talking about it.

“Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad, that it will destroy your life.”
Jeff Sessions, US attorney general

At three separate events on Wednesday, the US attorney general almost gleefully attacked cannabis—demeaning research that shows its potential to reduce opioid deaths, casting doubt on the drug’s medical benefits, and encouraging a return to the drug war’s dogmatic “Just say no!” mantra. At the same time, Sessions acknowledged the validity of the Cole memo, which allows states to proceed with adult-use cannabis regulation, and recognized that the Department of Justice doesn’t have the resources to initiate nationwide cannabis raids.

“We’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades,” he said at a press conference Wednesday:

The Cole memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid. I may have some different ideas myself in addition to that, but essentially we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades.

But at the same event, he opined that “medical marijuana has been hyped.”

I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much. It’s possible that some dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial … but if you ever just smoke marijuana for example where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount.

Sessions also reiterated his personal zero-tolerance position. “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad,” he told a law enforcement audience, “that it will destroy your life.”

“We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, 'Just say no! Don’t do it!'”
Jeff Sessions, US attorney general

At a second event, speaking to law enforcement, Sessions was expected to claim that cannabis is “only slightly less awful” than heroin. He cut that claim—heroin has killed tens of thousands of Americans in recent years; cannabis overdoses have killed zero—but instead name-dropped Nancy Reagan, seeming to advocate a return to the war on drugs:

“I think we have too much of a tolerance for drug use—psychologically, politically, morally,” he said. “We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no! Don’t do it!’ There’s no excuse for this, it’s not recreational. It can be destructive and it consistently is destructive.”


White House Plans ‘Greater Enforcement’ Against Legal Cannabis

One of his most controversial claims at that event was that cannabis as a means to reduce opioid use is a farce:

I’m astonished to hear people suggest we can solve our heroin crisis—have you heard this?—by having more marijuana. I mean, how stupid is that! Give me a break! So we’re going to have to stand up and confront that, tell the truth here. And our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad, that it will destroy your life.

If Sessions is really interested in the truth, he should pay attention to the growing scientific evidence that suggests he’s flat-out wrong. (Read my colleague Bailey Rahn’s in-depth piece on the issue here.)


America’s Opioid Crisis: Can High-CBD Cannabis Combat Pain and Reduce Addiction Rates?

Sessions professed a desire to save lives, but he appears deaf to the growing calls for evidence-based approaches. Instead he fell back on the ideology that a drug is a drug—and that all drugs are bad:

Lives are at stake and we’re not going to worry about being fashionable in my view at this point in time. We’re going to see and we’re already seeing the death and destruction that results from the prevalence of drugs in America and the argument’s not going to be too hard to win in the months to come—people will see too many of the people they know losing their lives.

It’s not yet clear how Sessions’ views on cannabis will affect Department of Justice policy. In  fact, Sessions himself may not yet have decided. Later on Wednesday, speaking to radio host Laura Ingraham—whose show’s tagline is “Your healthy radio addiction”—he laid out a fuzzy “fair plan” for cannabis enforcement, one that apparently has yet to be developed:

Federal law remains in effect and it makes it unlawful to distribute or possess marijuana in any state even though the state might legalize it. So within those states we’re going to develop plans that have a good, sound basis to it and we’re not going to stop prosecuting marijuana in those states. We just don’t have the personnel to walk the streets like the local police… It still remains against federal law to possess and distribute marijuana and we’re going to develop a fair plan for that.

Ben Adlin's Bio Image

Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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  • Grow Your Own

    Just Tax & Sell Cannabis like Alcohol and Don’t tell me Alcohol is Safer than Cannabis.


    its will be very hard to stop the fed its all about the money form the fed and all the way down to cop and jails they all want your money and we let them do it to us.THE USA is sick for putting all the peps in jail for weed they love all of you so keep give your money away .NO ONE CARES so stop cying about let them do it to you .

  • Robert Gerus

    Jeff Sessions, US attorney general, why is he so full of himself, he has never tried it or will he ever try it. The answer is probably not. Because he is an AH who thinks because he was given a good job he has to make good impression. Well I say GFY little rat, a pointy nose and big ears and he would look like a marijuana rat.

    • Jim Avery

      What are you, like…7 yrs old?

  • farmerlion

    The Sessions Effect, Now North Dakota is doing everything it can to cripple Measure #5. Not one bill has been introduced to decriminalize marijuana possession. Yet we have gutted the Measure and delayed implementation. The next election cycle in two years needs to have a clear message sent. Any legislator who has stood In the way of legalization needs to be gone!!! This message needs to be sent loud and clear before the next cycle starts. New voters are coming of age and older far right voters are diminishing. Please use sources like MPP and NORML to contact your representatives. Thank you

  • Crepidula

    This “death and destruction” he mentions….that we’re “going to see”….. we sure have never seen such a thing from cannabis. We’ve seen it a lot from bad cops, though. Where the hell does this bozo get off, foisting his bad trip on the WILL OF THE PEOPLE? How do we get rid of him? IS there a way to get rid of him??

  • Skankherder

    Somebody give that racist the numbers on alcohol, which he probably gets political kick backs from. Last count I have lost more friends to alcohol than opioid’s and more to stupidity than to marijuana use. What color does he say the sky is? Damn dinosaur lookin bird that wants to steal my eggs when he pulls me from the nest and locks me in a cage. Stupid law against marijuana has ruined multitudes more families than the plant itself ever could. He better hope I don’t find an unknown ugly little scavanger dinosaur on my frequent treks through the desert, it will get his name. Well, probably without the Jefferson in front.

    • Legalize420

      I call my 💩 Sessions and say peace out f***er each time I flush

  • TheContrarian

    I’m about as worried over Sessions cracking down on marijuana as I am Pence electrocuting gay people. It’s fun to troll Liberals with these talking points, but in reality… these things just ain’t gonna happen.

    • Billy Wolf

      NOt in Oregon they are not…

      • TheContrarian

        Not anywhere, I don’t believe. It’s mainly fear mongering from the Democrats.

  • Billy Wolf

    Jeff you are a tired old man that is also a country BUMPKIN…I full blown REDNECK and Racist and should be in Prison…We will Gladly leave you’re filthy union in a Heartbeat in Oregon…YOU hold us back from evolving our country…The West coast can do very well without you…

  • lovingc

    Sessionss is a dinosaur and a liar,a perfect pick for the tromp cabinet. He seems to be proud of his ignorance. I hope he will die from it. I have no sympathy for demagogues or tyrants.

    • whenpigsfly

      He reminds me of Gomer Pyle.

  • eric

    this is how I feel I take Morfinen and perkasets for 15 years just think what my liver looks like and that is our government killing us with there meds bulls–t! but there is a drug out there that has never been a overdose in the history of pot!!! so government would not be getting there dirty drug money from the big company’s that make opieds drugs and pay off our government!! let one of them get cancer and be in pain that Morfinen will not kill and see if they smoke a joint to feel no pain!!!

  • Paul Sorensen

    The irony is, undoubtedly, some of Sessions friends, family or associates are consuming cannabis. I wish one of them would slip him a copy of the film ‘Traffic’. The ‘War On Drugs’ is a sad, expensive joke.


    It’s really simple, Jeff just needs to go back to the 80’s and pray with Nancy….

  • Brad Schulz

    Prohibition forces always use the term “drugs” when they want to make cannabis sound bad. They associate it with other harder drugs so they can talk about addiction. They also include alcohol in “drugs” when they want to cite deaths, suicides, car accidents & deaths, etc. But when talking about permission to use substances, alcohol is always omitted from these examples because its legal. If you want to talk about the evils of “drugs” you need to include the two worst ones, alcohol & tobacco. Or are we playing simon says? Simon says: you can smoke this, but you can’t smoke that… completely arbitrary. No reason behind the law. Just because we say so even though we’re ignorant.

    • Jeff Hudson

      They also use the pejorative term marijuana rather than the correct term cannabis.

  • David Yoseph Schreiber

    Can an injunction be obtained against federal officials who maliciously make reckless and false claims about an issue in which there is much political debate?

    It would be interesting to hear the comments of the authors of the scientific studies cited in the article “Science Recognizes Cannabis Reduces Withdrawal Symptoms, But State Laws Still Don’t” have to say about Sessions extremely different conclusions (link:

    • Jeff Hudson

      The cannabis denial behavior you point out is no different than the human caused climate change deniers and in my opinion both issues need to be addressed immediately and seriously to relieve the multitude of stress on the people of earth.

  • Kiel McWhirter

    Drugs are bad, mmmkay

  • Gbop

    duhhhhhhhh. that’s why states are regulating Medicinal Recreational Cannabis and require all Cannabis products are Testedfor Pesticides Cannabanoid Profile and Potentcy. damn talk about leading camel to water.

  • Gbop

    Marijuana Medical Altertanatives (the big 3) will lose trillions of dollars if everyone starts treating their ailments with cannabis . because they find out the truth.and experience the proof, you know you have too look at it from this perspective.

  • Gbop

    plus all these different pharma pills and injections that are synthesized to treat specific ailments are not fullproof and lethal if over injested. Cannabis on the other comes in many variations from concocsions to extractions down the variations in strain differences in appperance aroma taste and therapeutic benefits and its hasn’t shown to be lethal ever.

  • Gbop

    Carbon substance compliments and Carbon based Body plus we have and endocannabnoid system is need for natural cannabanoids There are over 500 unique therapeutic compounds in cannabis that are beneficial to our body 200 of those are cannabinoids wich our endocannabinoid system needs to function. Cannabis brings out your Vibrance hence the both being Vibrational Cannabis and Humans . If you ask me Cannabis is Mans Best Friend. Dogs or Dogon

  • Gbop

    well u cant say that about Tobbaco or alcohol or pills or at least the ones ont he market or in themarket for that matter

  • mark

    Sessions needs to pull his out of his #$%. What an archaic throwback.

  • Robert D. Bruce

    This is rich. They take away the chronic pain patients medicine away. Now the Federal wants to wage another failed war. Do you fine people realize that the Federal has become the arbiter of all of our personal choices?

    • Legalize420

      This is 100% true. People need to realize freedom is a part of our past and we are no longer free, but under the control of the fed government and their personal feelings. If they like it, fine, if they don’t, regardless of facts, they criminalize it. It’s wrong and people sadly can’t get the point across by standing and protesting, but by showing no fear and attacking the fed gov and call em out. I wish I lived in DC, I’d be at the statehouse and such daily preaching and outing their lies and lives they are ruining. Sessions needs to be removed from office . He is not able to listen to truth and public opinion, but only the little voice in his head that just says “drugs r bad mmmkay”

  • Nina




  • massvocals

    What Jeff session does tell ya cause you don’t asked ( Press ) That the American people over years of booties the federal coffers are full of civil and criminal asset forfeiture money in the amount over a staging 823 billion 230 million dollars and growing each day federal law enforcement doesn’t need congress money to attack cannabis legal states you best call your congress to fix and remove cannabis form CSL

  • Three Dollar Bill

    The War on Vegetables heats up. Going to jail for kale ?”Good people don’t eat carrots.” Sessions’ over.