Attorney General Jeff Sessions is certainly riled up to challenge state marijuana laws. Sadly for him, Congress just extinguished his chances.
The recent 1,665-page spending bill has a requirement that restricts the Department of Justice from using any of its finances to hinder state laws linked to medical marijuana. The department cannot “prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana,” Section 537 of the bill reads.
The $1.1 trillion spending bill—the Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 244 (PDF)—passed the Senate back on May 4, with a 79-to-18 vote. The White House has indicated that Trump will sign it, which will keep the government operating until September.
The section that ties the hands of the Department of Justice on medical marijuana enforcement isn’t anything new. It has been around since back in 2015. But it received little fanfare amid the Obama era, which took a mild position on enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have some form of legalized marijuana program.
All that changed when Jeff Sessions obtained control of the Department of Justice. Sessions has frequently stated he is against marijuana legalization and indicated that he would abandon Obama’s lax enforcement position.
For example, back in an April 2016 Congressional Hearing, Sessions announced that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” When Sessions was asked about enforcement this February at a press conference, he said:
“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana. But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
With Section 537, Sessions can still make an effort to fight the recreational use of marijuana in the eight states that have passed such laws. However, without funding, Sessions’ has little ability to fight the medical marijuana laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
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