Tag: Sessions

Sessions Attacks Washington’s Cannabis Laws in Letter to Governor

Amid uncertainty around whether President Trump’s Justice Department will respect state cannabis laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week sent a letter to Washington state officials slamming that state’s legal cannabis system. It’s the attorney general’s sharpest opposition to legal cannabis since he asked Congress to remove a crucial federal protection for medical marijuana states.

In the letter, sent to Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office upset the Trump administration by successfully challenging the White House’s travel ban, Sessions reiterates that “Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a crime.” He cites a 2016 law enforcement report that he says “raises serious questions about the efficiency of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ in your state.”

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Sessions’ letter, obtained and first reported by the Huffington Post, draws exclusively on the report by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, a drug-prohibition enforcement program out of the US Office of National Drug Control. It includes a laundry list of claims in an effort to show that Washington’s cannabis laws are failing to effectively regulate the industry.

76% of Americans support individual states being able to make their own laws around cannabis use and sales.

Not only is the medical market “considered ‘grey’ due to the lack of regulation and oversight,” Sessions writes, but “the ‘recreationally licensed’ marijuana market is also incompletely regulated.” He notes evidence for the diversion of Washington-grown cannabis into other US states and raises concerns about illegal sales of cannabis to minors.

Some of the statistics are misleading. The letter says, for example, that “In 2014 alone, 17 THC extraction labs exploded,” but it doesn’t say whether those labs were above-board operations or amateur, black-market concentrate makers. Virtually all explosions related to extraction have occurred at illegal and unregulated facilities.

He also writes that “Washington State marijuana has been found to have been destined for 43 different states,” though he doesn’t specify what that means. While there have been some recorded examples of larger shipments of cannabis being diverted out of the state, Sessions’ numbers could very well include a tourist’s attempt to bring a vape pen home on an airplane.

As for underage use, several studies have shown that cannabis consumption by minors in legal-cannabis states has remained steady or even fallen. In Colorado, a report found that rates of use increased among adults from 2005 to 2014 but actually decreased among minors.

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Sessions’ letter came in response to three separate letters from Washington state officials urging him to respect the state’s cannabis laws. In his reply, he writes that he appreciates the “offer to engage in continuing dialogue on this important issue.” He then directs state officials to explain how they plan to solve every problem in the system.

“Please advise as to how Washington plans to address the findings in the Northwest HIDTA report,” he writes, “including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws.”

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Earlier this year, a Quinnipiac poll found that 94% of Americans support allowing doctors prescribing adults medical marijuana.

Another survey, conducted by SurveyUSA for the advocacy organization Marijuana Majority, found that 76% of Americans support individual states being able to make their own laws around cannabis use and sales.

The full letter from Sessions is embedded below:

Jeff Sessions Ready to Ramp Up More Asset Forfeitures

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, following up on his revival of mandatory minimum sentences and the federal use of private for-profit prisons, today announced plans to ramp up the widely discredited practice of civil asset forfeiture.

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Speaking at a National District Attorneys Association meeting in Minneapolis, Sessions said that he and the Justice Department plan on reviving the controversial practice of taking assets from citizens who haven’t been convicted or even charged with a crime.

“We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture — especially for drug traffickers,” Sessions said in prepared remarks.

Civil asset forfeiture is a concept that has its roots in ancient British maritime law, but was widely introduced in the United States in the 1980s, when federal and state authorities used provisions of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act and other measures to strip ill-gotten gains from big-time drug traffickers.

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In the decades since, the practice has trickled down into policing at nearly every level, and has resulting in notorious abuses in states across the nation. In 2014, the Washington Post ran a six-part investigative series that documented the ways in which civil asset forfeiture was “turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.”

As the site, Reason posted, asset forfeiture was a prized commodity used by law enforcement in the battle against organized drug cartels in the 1980s. In recent years, both liberal and conservative groups have called for an end to the practice, or at least a major effort at reform. Giving law enforcement officials a profit incentive, coupled with a lack of oversight, has led to innocent average citizens getting their property seized with little avenue for redress.

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Jeff Sessions Asks Congress to End Medical Cannabis Protections

Soon after Sessions speech on Monday, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah cautioned the DOJ to not overstep its bounds. According to Buzzfeed News, Lee noted that Justice Clarence Thomas wanted the Supreme Court to hear a case challenging asset forfeiture.

This new policy could directly affect the cannabis industry, which is legal in many states but remains against federal law nationwide. As Leafly Associate Editor Ben Adlin pointed out on Twitter, nothing in the text of Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment—the legislation that prohibits the DOJ from spending funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws—prohibits the DOJ from seizing the assets of cannabis businesses.

Under President Obama, then-Attorney General Eric Holder scaled back the federal asset forfeiture program that split the proceeds with state and local police. The new Justice Department policy, if and when it’s officially announced, would presumably override that 2015 reform.

Oregon Officials Met with Feds to Defend Legal Cannabis

Officials in states that have legalized cannabis continue to strategize around defending their state’s legal cannabis industries from the feds and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Oregon is no exception. According to a report by Noelle Crombie of the Oregonian, high-level state officials recently met with the U.S. attorney for Oregon to discuss the situation.

According to Crombie’s report, US Attorney Billy Williams requested the meeting with top aides in Gov. Brown’s office late in May. At issue was a draft report by the state police, which concluded that Oregon remained one of the top sources for black market cannabis in the United States.

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Others reportedly at the meeting included Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton, the executive director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and a representative from the Oregon Attorney General’s Office.

Per Crombie, Williams asked to set the meeting up after reading about the state police analysis in the Oregonian in March. That analysis showed the state remained a top source for black market marijuana.

The complete report has yet to be released by the Oregon State Police.

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Williams told the Oregonian that he’s concerned about the still-functioning black market. One of the main reasons the state’s citizens voted to legalize cannabis was to end illicit sales.

“Overproduction is definitely concerning and the violation of the state and federal law, diverting it to other areas of the country is very concerning and we are looking at it,” Williams said.

Jeffrey Rhoades, the governor’s marijuana policy adviser, led the state’s presentation to Williams. He talked about how the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system for cannabis, as well as security and testing requirements, are all part of Oregon’s efforts to comply with the US Department of Justice’s Cole Memorandum.

Rhoades did have a largely positive take on cannabis legalization in the state, as he brought up that legal cannabis has generated $60.2 million in tax revenue to date and has created more than 12,000 jobs.

For the full report, check out Crombie’s article here for the Oregonian.

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Calif. Sen. Harris Warns Sessions: “We Don’t Need Help Going After Grandma’s MMJ”

California Sen. Kamala Harris spoke out against the Trump administration’s drug policies yesterday, advising Attorney General Jeff Sessions that her state needed no help “in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

Harris, the state’s former attorney general and a rising star in national Democratic circles, made her remarks at the Ideas Conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.

“Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions,” Harris said during a conference keynote. “We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

The Ideas Conference, put on by the Center for American Progress, is widely viewed as a testing ground in the Democratic Party’s search for their new standard bearer.

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Harris wasn’t done after making the “grandma’s medicinal marijuana” comment.

‘We need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.’

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

The freshman senator took aim at Sessions’ recent sentencing memo, which directs federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest criminal penalties possible in all cases.

“While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs – as a career prosecutor I just don’t – we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana,” Harris said.

Sessions’ push for maximum sentences, she said, is a revival of the failed war on drugs, in which minorities were disproportionately incarcerated while the nation’s drug issues only grew worse over time.

“Instead of going after violent crime, drug cartels, and major traffickers, we’re worried about the neighborhood street-level dealer,” she said. “Instead of addressing the core issue of addiction and getting folks into treatment, we’re going to overcrowd and build more prisons.”

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As the Sacramento Bee reported, Harris’ address comes as the freshman senator broadens her profile on a national media tour. She recently enjoyed an extended appearance on CNN’s “The Lead,” and gave the commencement address at Howard University, her alma mater.

Harris also called for cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, and singled out the drug policy issue as one that offers an opening for liberals and conservatives to work together. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and other conservatives, has also spoken out against Sessions’ harsh sentencing memo.

Many powerful members of the Democratic Party were present Tuesday. California Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, and Maxine Waters were featured, while billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer made an appearance.

Harris said she isn’t thinking about a run for president in 2020, but news reports from the conference indicated that progressive leaders were closely watching her with 2020 in mind.

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Congress Pushes Back Against Jeff Sessions’ Drug War 2.0

If Jeff Sessions was expecting applause for his bid to revive the war on drugs last Friday, he’s not hearing much of it from Congress. On Capitol Hill today, members from both sides of the aisle expressed their displeasure with the Sessions sentencing memo, which effectively withdrew a signature part of President Obama’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. That initiative sought to target the most serious crimes, while reducing the number of defendants charged with nonviolent drug offenses that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

Sessions new directive for federal prosecutors across the country is this: Charge suspects with the most serious offense you can prove in court.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), known for his libertarian views, was among the first to raise his voice against Sessions’ new order.

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Paul said. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice. Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key problem.”

Among Democrats, the responses have been almost uniformly negative. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said that the new policy will cause costs to skyrocket and have a destructive effect on communities.

“It’s no coincidence that the Sessions memo was quietly signed on the same day the President was making major headlines for firing FBI Director Comey because of his investigation of Trump — this policy is unjust and unwise and can’t withstand even minimal public scrutiny,” Durbin said. Sessions held a news conference on the new policy earlier Friday. Trump has said he decided to fire Comey because the President thought he was doing a bad job and for being a “showboat.”

Other Congress members also took to Twitter. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) tweeted out his thoughts:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) recorded a video about Sessions’ move.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t hold back: “The policy announced today is not tough on crime,” he said. “It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”

There were a few who agreed with the move, among them Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who offered praise for Sessions’ action, saying “law enforcement should side with the victims of crime rather than its perpetrators.”