Jeff Sessions' Exit Could Be Good News For Marijuana Advocates

Drug reform advocates are thrilled about Jeff Sessions' exit from the Justice Department, but the future of federal weed prohibition is uncertain
Posted at 4:57 PM, Nov 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-08 16:57:38-05

Jeff Sessions is out as Attorney General and drug reform advocates are thrilled. 

"We're definitely glad to see him go. He was a disaster for drug policy," said Michael Collins, interim director at the Drug Policy Alliance 

Although Trump has been relatively hands-off on marijuana legalization, Sessions was notoriously anti-pot and during his time in office he took it upon himself to make drastic changes to the Department of Justice's drug enforcement policies. 

In January he rolled back an Obama-era policy directing the department to not enforce federal marijuana prohibition in states that had legalized it. 

Sessions also directed prosecutors to seek the maximum allowable punishment for drug offenders.

Both of these changes sparked public outcry and drew criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

"If the next Attorney General is smart they’ll see that you know, there are a lot of Republicans that support criminal justice reform," Collins said. "They don’t want the Attorney General wasting time cracking down on marijuana businesses. They want a public health approach to the overdose crisis and that should be the direction the next attorney general takes." 

But supporters of Sessions’ drug policies say his exit hasn’t changed anything and nothing will change if Trump appoints an Attorney General with similar views on weed. 

"Marijuana was illegal before Jeff Sessions, it was illegal during Jeff Sessions and it will be illegal after Jeff Sessions," said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and anti-pot legalization group. 

But, whoever becomes the next Attorney General could issue new guidance and marijuana advocates say the nominee for the job could face more scrutiny this time from Republicans on drug policy. 

"I think you’ll see this time around a lot more rigorous questioning of the candidate on things like marijuana legalization and sentencing reform because they’ve been such flash points," Collins said. "And really the hope is that we have an Attorney General that doesn’t get his drug policy ideas from the 1980s. That would be a step forward." 

Critics like Sabet admit that criminal justice reform around drug sentencing has become a priority for some Republican Senators, but marijuana legalization on its own isn’t a high enough priority to block the nomination.  

This week voters approved ballot measures legalizing recreational weed in Michigan and Utah, and medical marijuana in Missouri. But a legal recreational marijuana ballot measure failed in North Dakota.