It’s not news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t like cannabis. In the past, he has referred to the plant as a “life-wrecking dependency,” and has gone on the record to state that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Being the chief lawyer and chief law officer in the US Government, people are right to be concerned about his opinions on cannabis. This week we were given a glimpse into what the Attorney General’s battle plan for his fight against states’ rights might look like.
A private letter sent by AG Sessions to Congress from May 1st was revealed this week; at the core of his letter is the Rorhbacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the federal government from prosecuting for cannabis offenses in states where it is legal. “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions opined in his letter Republican and Democratic House and Senate Leaders. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Boasting strong bipartisan support in annual renewals since coming into effect in 2014, Sessions is attempting to persuade lawmakers from renewing the Rorhbacher-Farr amendment this year. Without the amendment in place, one of the obstacles keeping the federal government from prosecuting cannabis laws in states that have legalized would be removed, allowing him to use federal resources to pursue legal action regardless of state laws. However, a bipartisan group of Senators and House Representatives has come forward with a new law that would more firmly guarantee state’s rights to regulate cannabis as they see fit.
Introduced on Thursday, the bill is known as the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act. The law wouldn’t attempt to change with federal regulations of marijuana, but would officially allow states to set their own medical marijuana policy, rendering the Rorhbacher-Farr amendment unnecessary. It would also take CBD off controlled substances lists, allowing patients in states without legal medical marijuana to import and use the substance, and lifts laws preventing doctors in Department of Veterans Affairs facilities from prescribing medical cannabis to veterans in states where medical cannabis is legalized.
Originally introduced in 2015 and the first medical marijuana bill to reach the Senate, the Act is returning with twice as many sponsors as the original iteration–Al Franken (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah). The House version of the bill is sponsored by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska)–and with as many as 20 health, policy, and veteran organizations endorsing the bill.
Though success will involve a difficult uphill battle, many are hopeful that we’re in the right time and place socially and politically to at least protect states rights. Unfortunately, the views of the Attorney General and others in the Justice Department, as well as other areas of the federal government, means the road to federal legalization is still out of sight, and that states rights will be endangered. With a President in office who purported to support states’ rights (including regarding cannabis specifically) during his campaign, there is some hope left that hard-won rights in 30 states won’t be reversed.