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The Jeff Sessions Cannabis Crackdown Has Arrived—And It’s Awesome

May 30, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens as President Donald Trump speaks during the 37th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s weekly column on cannabis politics and culture.

This isn’t the cannabis crackdown Jeff Sessions envisioned.

With a series of crackdowns on illegal marijuana grows, the feds are shoring up the state-legal cannabis system.

Back in the early days of 2017, when the newly ensconced attorney general had the cannabis industry popping Xanax and praying twice on Sunday, Sessions loved to talk smack about legal marijuana. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” he once declared. “We have too much of a tolerance for drug use,” he told an audience of cops last year. “We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no.’ There’s no excuse for this, it’s not recreational. Lives are at stake, and we’re not going to worry about being fashionable.”

With Obama gone, he assured us, things would change. No more hippies smoking doobies in church. The rule of law was returning to America.

So here we are, almost 18 months later, and the Department of Justice is finally laying the wood to the marijuana growers. They’re cracking down hard. People are going to jail.

And the legal, regulated cannabis industry is benefitting.

Consider:

  • Last month in California, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of California oversaw one of the largest marijuana operations in recent history. On April 3 and 4, hundreds of federal and local law enforcement agents raided 74 houses in the Sacramento region, breaking up a network of illegal cannabis growers financed by dark money from China.
  • Last week in Washington State, the US Attorney for Western Washington arrested several illegal, unlicensed cannabis growers also financed by suspicious money transfers from China.
  • Yesterday in Sacramento, federal and state authorities announced a joint effort to target illegal cannabis grows, with $2.5 million in federal money backing the effort.

The upshot: The US Department of Justice is enforcing the legalization rules and regulations established in the nine legal cannabis states.

Related

Feds Refresh California Marijuana Strategy

McGregor Scott, right, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California, accompanied by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, discusses a federal-state program to crack down on illegal cannabis grows on Tuesday, May 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Feds Helping the Industry

The feds are shoring up the state-legal cannabis system. They’re arresting those who violate cannabis licensing laws, thereby protecting the financial investment and hard work put in by the entrepreneurs who follow state law. They’re also protecting the more than 150,000 jobs supported by the legal cannabis industry.

McGregor Scott, the US attorney for inland California (basically from Bakersfield north to the Oregon border), addressed the reality of the situation at a press conference announcing the $2.5 million project yesterday. “The reality of the situation is there is so much black market marijuana in California that we could use all of our resources going after just the black market and never get there,” Scott said. “So for right now, our priorities are to focus on what have been historically our federal law enforcement priorities: interstate trafficking, organized crime, and the federal public lands.”

That’s not a bitter-holdout policy from an Obama appointee. McGregor Scott was vetted by Jeff Sessions and appointed last year by President Trump.

Related

Feds Raid Illegal California Grow Houses Run by Chinese Mob

Common Sense Enforcement

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who stopped by the Leafly office for an interview yesterday, praised the federal raids on the Chinese grow operation.

Pete Holmes: ‘This makes sense.’

“This is exactly the kind of enforcement action that the federal government should undertake,” he said. “In Washington state, we now have a highly regulated system as an alternative to prohibition. That’s precisely when criminal enforcement—to reinforce the regulatory system—makes sense.”

Holmes has been a pioneer in the decriminalization of cannabis. Shortly after taking office in 2009, he ordered his office to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses (including actions that still send tens of thousands to court in New York every year). That policy ultimately set the stage for the statewide passage of adult-use legalization in 2012 with Initiative 502, which he cosponsored.

When a Chinese-based crime syndicate sets up shop throughout an entire region, as this one allegedly did, a single town or city doesn’t have the resources to take it down. “This isn’t only interstate in scope, it’s international,” said Holmes. It’s the kind of case that federal law enforcement agencies were established to handle.

“The state welcomes it,” Holmes said of the federal action. “The city welcomes it. The county welcomes it. And in my office, we are undertaking a number of civil forfeitures related to this case.”

“This really was a lawless operation,” he added. “It was designed to take advantage of a state that’s trying to advance policy. They were undermining our state’s industry. This is exactly the kind of operation that we need to undertake, if for no other reason than to help eliminate illegal and unfair competition to those who have invested in this industry.”

Related

2017 Cannabis Jobs Count: Legal Marijuana Supports 149,304 Americans

This Is Working Out Better Than Anticipated

A few weeks ago on The Roll-Up, our Leafly News podcast, my colleagues Ben Adlin, Dave Schmader and I tossed around ideas about a federal crackdown that would actually make sense.

A few weeks ago this was only a dream. 'What if a federal crackdown fell on unlicensed growers and sellers in legal states?'

In our blue-sky bullshit session, we imagined federal agents rolling heavy on the Mexican cartel grows that poison our National Forests—and protecting the investments made by the legal, state-licensed cannabis industry. What if the Justice Department released its pent-up energy around marijuana by arresting a bunch of bad actors in legal states?

That was our wildest dream. Over the past few weeks it seems to be coming true. Federal prosecutors in legal states are enforcing the law against the worst actors, growers who rip up public land and rip off state-licensed farmers. Farmers who invested in licenses and security systems, who survived local zoning laws, who sell only to legal cannabis retailers, are now supported by federal agents.

I’m not sure how it’s going down at DOJ headquarters in Washington, DC. Maybe Jeff Sessions is hearing that his appointees are cracking down on marijuana—and loving it. Maybe he’s stamping his little feet in fury.

My money’s on the former. The idea of his Justice Department cracking down on both marijuana and a foreign drug gang seems like a twofer for both Sessions and his boss. Tweet it out: “CRACKDOWN. Rule of law. CNN ignores, but Chinese marijuana gangs are going down. Obama never did this!!!”

Meanwhile the state-legal, state-licensed, and state-regulated cannabis industry grows stronger and safer every day.

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

  • Walt Corcoran

    Haha wow and you all at Leafly have smoked your selves retarded if you think your not next on his crack down list 😑 start with the biggest enemy-drug cartels and move down the ladder to the easy to find and even easier to bust – all state regulated cannabis dispensaries. Writing is on the wall

  • If these Chins or whoever are poisoning the environment, lock ’em up. That’s just one reason why we’ve wanted legalization for decades, safety. It’s sad that it took this goofy government this long to open an eye.
    Prohibition causes more problems than the prohibited matter.
    Take “Bathsalt” for instance. The first products were MDMA based and delightful. Then when the DEA started in with their ignorant shit, it evolved into “Gator” and “Gravel” and other crazy dangerous substances.

    I can’t fathom how dense government people are. I hope this trend of lightening up progresses.

    • TheEndGameIsNear

      If you think that hasn’t already happened since the YES vote in California then you’re sorely and sadly mistaken. Happy 4th of July.

  • Stephanie Boucher

    Sorry but this feels so incredibly privileged to me. Painting anyone who is growing or processing outside the legal system as destructive criminals is playing right into the xenophobic oppression endemic to cannabis history. And saying that its awesome that people are going to jail is so tone deaf — it takes an incredible amount of resources and connections to find a place in the legal cannabis economy and those are things not accessible to everybody. In this industry, we should be fighting for the right of everyone to grow and access this plant, not celebrating the fall of others if it benefits us like some kind of zero-sum capitalist. Shame on you Leafly.

    • Open Minds

      Sorry Stephanie but you are wrong. Small farmers can join Flow Kana or True Humboldt and work under their umbrella. And people who grow for themselves (10-12 plants) are not being targeted. Personally, I want the cannabis I buy to be free of pesticides etc and to be grown in an environmentally sustainable manner.

      • Ephraiyim

        But, of course, not free of outlandish taxes!

      • TheEndGameIsNear

        Enjoy the new rat poison weed then.

    • Pat Baker

      Come on Stephanie, they are arresting the criminals that have come here to commit the crimes. They are trying to take advantage of the legal farmers. We have to protect the legal industry.

      • starmonche

        We’re talking about a weed that can literally grow almost anywhere. Full stop. This should never have been allowed to be made illegal and certainly shouldn’t be an industry. How about we spend our resources controlling the growth of poison ivy?

    • Ryan Rice

      Capitalism, interestingly enough, is as far as you can get from a zero-sum game economically speaking. The rhetoric in the article is that of cronyism, the legal insiders who appeal to the state for arbitrary competitive advantage and and barriers to entry for those still on the outside.

      I agree it’s wrong to paint others as criminals when many of today’s legal market actors who are making bank now were likely subject to felony prosecution just a few years ago. How easily they forget.

      As far as your attempt to integrate your neomarxist social justice worldview into all of this, good luck with that. Victimhood culture is a festering philosophical cancer that we will pay dearly for if we continue to entertain. Everything is oppressor vs. oppressed in that philosophy, and it pits the human race at large against eachother with potentially disastrous consequences. The smallest minority possible is the individual. It is the individual who should be elevated above the collective, not the other way around. You are going backwards.

      Otherwise, I do agree that the celebration around the crackdown on illicit markets is wrong.

    • TheEndGameIsNear

      Leafly has been seized by Sessions.

  • lovingc

    Jeff Sessions is a toxic and dangerous idiot. Trump is worse. There is nothing good that can be said of either of the Bobbsey twins. The sooner Trump and his cohorts of criminals are in jail the safer I will feel.

    • starmonche

      A) It’s never *ever* going to happen…Trump was not colluding with Russia and B) please try to stay on topic.

      • lovingc

        You need to let Faux news alone they are spreading nothing but lies.
        First of all Mueller doesn’t leak!!! You know nothing about the investigation other than they will be ready to wrap up the obstruction cases around September. The rest of it you will not know about until the investigations are done,and incitements filed. That will be your first notice of who is going to court.
        As far as staying on topic you brought it up I was talking about the AG.and his ridiculous ideas that he is going against 60% of the country!

  • Ouvert Bon

    What a disappoinment Sessions has been. Totally ignores what he should be doing which is to get to the bottom of supposed Russian collusion but instead recuses himself and then goes after pot growers when pot is being legalized everywhere. Trump should definitely fire him. We can wage war around the world but we can’t let adults decide what to do recreationally. What a messed up world we are living in.

  • Open Minds

    Talk about institutional hypocrisy – Nancy Reagan was high as a kite on pills at the same time she was telling people to say no to drugs. Just google “nancy reagan prescription pills” to find out more.

    • Doc Who

      That was Nancy’s medicine.

      /s

  • Matty032

    This article is unbelievable! What a load of crap.

  • eyetaliano

    I do believe in regulations and rules but I still don’t believe someone should go to jail for growing a plant. States should allow for a “gray market” where individuals can grown for their own personal consumption, like growing tomatoes or carrots, on your own land or property. Furthermore, entrepreneurship is not an even playing field by any means when it costs thousands to operate even before anything is grown. This makes the system ripe for “cartelism” or the financialization of the industry which squeezes out smaller competition and promotes a more corporate, regulated business. If someone can grow their own tobacco or brew their own beer then they should be able to grow and process their own plants into personal cannabis products. Leafly should be applauding the industry maturing and prosecuting malefactors but it should also be pushing for personal protections and civil liberties.

    • Walt Corcoran

      Pfft how many people do you know who grow tobacco or has enough land to do so and same goes to alcohol I personally only Know 1 man who distills and bottles his own liquor and as I gathered from him it’s smaller than a minority of people. Just dumb. Sadly only way out of this is full legalization taxing and regulating it like alcohol.

      • freewheelinfranklin543

        And the feds allow you to grow a tenth of an acre about 4600 sq.ft. of tobacco. They also allow you to make up to 200 gallons of wine or beer a year. The BATFE regulates or did regulate that. Makin moonshine isn’t legal though.
        Most people have room for a small garden in the US.

      • TheEndGameIsNear

        Sessions activity is equivalent to only allowing Everclear to be available.

        He is rabid, he wants people to die from poison weed or toxic concentrate. You simply don’t know what is in it. You’re inhaling or eating pure poison. Get it out of your body before you find out – and the withdrawals, blackouts, and seizures you get residues from the new ‘plant’ will make you never touch it again. Its more like Spice now. Like taking 5 hits of spice and drinking 5 shots of everclear in just one vape or hit. You’ll be nasty sick don’t say I didn’t warn you. We all know what happened when the DEA started treating those bath salts to catch meth heads.

        Only solution is not to use weed ever.

        Sessions is poisoning all weed consumables and letting people come out on work release to sell you dope that is deadly.

        • Walt Corcoran

          haha damn bro you have officially fallen off your rocking horse and straight into the glue factory of paranoid insanity i get my cannabis and concentrate checked at a lab for 20bucks gtfo

    • TheEndGameIsNear

      Because they’re not just growing a plant.

      They’re taking the bud and putting all manner of chemicals from rat poison to paralytic agents – the concentrates they are making since Sessions raided every organic home grower are poison as well as the flowers. Imagine the laced, sparkling very flammable (too flammable) buds turned deadly using that solvent – you are inhaling butane or gasoline with every vape and every hit. I have watched all the flower only shops shut and all that is left is the poisonous kind. If you’re a user, you are on Sessions hitlist and the recreational laws actually make it dangerous for patients. Just quit, have a nice time with the DTs.

  • freewheelinfranklin543

    Going after organized cartels doing illegal grows. Glad to see Sessions is following my advice. Now here is what I would like to see on a federal level. Legalization like alcohol. Under the alcohol regs one may make up to 200 gallons of wine and or beer for home consumption. You can also legally grow up to 1/10 of an acre of tobacco for your own consumption. We need something like that for Cannabis on a federal and state level. Equal protection under the law. Oregon,Nevada and Maine as well as Cali and Colorado allow you to grow a very few plants for your own recreational use. And the medical pot people can still grow in most legal states except Nevada and Arizona you have to be 25 miles away from a dispensary.
    Go after the cartels moving it into the US and go after large illegal organized grows in the US. If Sessions sticks to that….fine!

    • Walt Corcoran

      I agree but he will not stop there fool this is Jeff sessions he will come for them in due time, once the cartels are thought to be dealt with HE will be coming for your legal Bud’s, as he said before yes RIGHT now he doesn’t have the funds to go after legal cannabis but when he does he will crackdown on every provider and grower to the fullest of the law will allow. Why in the heaven’s would Congress grant protection of medical cannabis from sessions, if Jeffy didn’t plan to bust all of it down…. FYI Jeff wants recreational and medical cannabis GONE and returned to prohibition he cares not about the sick or freedom of choice he is a for big tobacco and very PRO private prison and he wants to ramp that up big time. Use the gift of the internet while we still have free access to information

      • freewheelinfranklin543

        You don’t need to name call. Jeff Sessions is not going to get his way ie The Reefer Madness Approach. I know all about Jeff Sessions and the private prison donations to the Trump campaign. I helped expose that connection at Whatreallyhappened.com and several social media websites,including my own that has racked up 50 million plus hits the last 7 years.Spent 11 months locked up for medical weed before it was legal in the state I lived in. They killed my dogs and cats! Beat me up and locked me in a private prison where I was beaten in my sleep by an inmate off his psycho meds. Lost 12 teeth,eye damage and damage to my balance with a concussion and cuts all over my face and head!
        Don’t talk to me about these jerks. I paid my dues in time and blood. You are a defeatist! And a name caller!

      • vermilion lover

        ya right

  • massman

    I want to live in a world where no is ever arrested for cannabis.

    • starmonche

      Or a world where you can put whatever you want into your own body…

  • BooBoo65

    “Tweet it out: “CRACKDOWN. Rule of law. CNN ignores, but Chinese marijuana gangs are going down. Obama never did this!!!””

    LOL! You have got him down pat.

  • Ryan Rice

    Here we see the sheer hypocrisy and lack of principles which guide the thoughtless statist mind.

    “It’s all good to throw people in cages now that there’s legal markets”, they explain with unhidden glee. “Throw the book at them! Lock ‘em up! It’s shoring up the legal industry after all.”

    What a bunch of garbage. This is why you don’t negotiate with the state as if it’s your benevolent caretaker. I understand the pragmatism involved in pursuing legal markets, but some of y’all are going off the rails.

    The state doesn’t dictate morality. Cultivation, distribution, and sale of cannabis was no less moral when there wasn’t a legal medical or adult-consumption market to be had in all the world.

    Stop selling your souls to the state and keep some perspective.