Jeff Sessions acknowledges 'some benefits from medical marijuana'

Posted on April 27th, 2018 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , .

medical marijuanaAttorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration's most notorious anti-cannabis hardliner, surprised advocates when he said in Congressional testimony that he believes there may be "some benefits from medical marijuana." But when pressed on whether his Justice Department would continue the Obama-era policy of not enforcing the federal marijuana laws against medical users in states where it is legal, he failed to give a straight answer.

In what was certainly an unexpected move, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated before a Senate panel on April 25 that “there may well be some benefits from medical marijuana,” and added that it is “perfectly appropriate to study” cannabis.

The proverbial bombshell came in testimony before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies,  one of 12 subcommittees of th Senate Committee on Appropriations. The hearing was called to review spending requests for Justice Department. Sessions' uncharacteristic comment was initially reported by Tom Angell of the DC-based advocacy group Marijuana Majority on his Marijuana Moment blog. 

But Sessions prefaced his acknowledgement of medical potential with a dismissal of smoking herbaceous cannabis (at least) for medical purposes: "Medical marijuana, as one physician told me, 'whoever heard of taking a medicine when you have no idea how much medicine you’re taking and ingesting it in the fashion that it is, which is in itself unhealthy?'"

Sessions was responding to questioning by Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat of Hawaii, who noted research indicating a reduction prescription drug use—and in fatal opioid overdoses—in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Sessions was also dismissive of this idea. He called for more study of this trend, conceding that "science is very important," but quickly added, "I don't believe that will be sustained in the long run."

When pressed by Schatz about DEA approval of applications from universities and companies for cannabis research, Sessions responded: “We are moving forward and we will add fairly soon, I believe, the paperwork and reviews will be completed and we will add additional suppliers of marijuana under the controlled circumstances,”

And as the Washington Times noted, Sessions punted when he was queried by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican,* about whether he would continue to honor Obama-era Justice Department memos calling for a hands-off policy on medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Sessions basically passed the buck back to Congress, and challenged them to change the law: "The federal government has passed some laws on marijuana that I’m not able to remove from the books. Congress—you—have passed them. They are on the books.”

Pressed for clarification on whether his Justice Department would prioritize cannabis enforcement in medical-marijuana states, he continued to equivocate: "Our priorities are fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine. People are dying by massive amounts as a result of those drugs. We have very few, almost zero, virtually zero small marijuana cases. But if they are a big deal and illegally acting and violating federal law, our agents may work that case."

So Sessions' seeming bombshell may ultimately prove something of a dud. As Marijuana Moment noted in its report, in 2016 the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a new policy intended to license more research cultivators, and the DEA has reportedly since received at least 25 applications to participate in the expanded program. But it has not acted on any of them—apparently because of interference from the Justice Department.

Still, Sessions' comment may prove useful in pressing the Department of Justice on the issue. NORML political director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment: “Over two million registered medical marijuana patients throughout the legal markets can attest to the attorney general’s newfound revelation. What we need is better research on consumer grade marijuana and lawful protections for legal markets, not further deliberation from the DoJ."

And such pressure may be coming from Congress. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers this week introduced legislation to expand medical marijuana research, The Hill  reports. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), would require the attorney general to annually assess whether there's an adequate supply of research-grade cannabis for universities and other institutions to study its medical uses. Gaetz said that 25 House members have signed on to the bill.

"One of the reasons I'm so enthusiastic is that we really do have a broad base of support from this bill from Republicans and Democrats, from moderates, conservatives, liberals, libertarians," Gaetz said. "And I'm hopeful that by finding the area with the common ground, the theory that we ought to create protections for research, that we'll be able to make some progress on this very important issue."

But all the signs from Tump's DoJ have heretofore been bad. Sessions in January announced that the prior policy of non-interference with states that have legalized medical marijuana is "unnecessary," and called on US attorneys to enforce the Controlled Substances Act nationwide. Effectively, this rescinded the Justice Department's 2009 Ogden Memo and 2011 Cole Memo, which established this policy.

And last month, Sessions issued a memo urging prosecutors to seek the death penalty for those "dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs," raising fears that this could actually be used against large-scale legal cannabis cultivators in places like California.

* The Washington Times incorrectly identifies Murkowski as representing Arkansas.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Graphic: Herbal Remedies

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Report: Trump has secret anti-cannabis committee

Global Ganja Report's picture With a scoop that sent shockwaves through the nation's cannabis industry, Buzzfeed reported on Wednesday that the publication had obtained documents belonging to President Donald Trump that revealed he had convened a secret anti-cannabis effort.

As reported by Buzzfeed News reporter Dominic Holden, the White House has secretly convened a committee of federal agencies to combat public support for marijuana reform efforts across the country. The group, reportedly named the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, has been instructed by the White House to gather data demonstrating the most significant negative trends related to cannabis legalization, according to a summary from a July 27 meeting that Buzzfeed was able to get its hands on. Buzzfeed has not released the document and the White House told the news source "it wouldn’t discuss the deliberative process used to craft the president's agenda."

The committee memo noted that the current national dialogue on pot is one-sided and needed to be counterbalanced with negative information "on marijuana threats." To accomplish their goal of reversing America public interest in cannabis, the Trump administration memo allegedly ordered the DEA and 14 other agencies to portray marijuana in a negative light, no matter what the data said. (Cannabis Now)


Comment by Global Ganja Report on Aug 29th, 2018 at 11:42 pm

US marijuana arrests rise for second straight year in 2017

Global Ganja Report's picture Trump's first year in office saw a slight bump in the total number of Americans arrested for marijuana. According to FBI data released today, marijuana arrests composed over 40% of the 1,632,921 total drug arrests made by the 12,606 US law enforcement agencies in 2017. The total number of marijuana arrests was 659,700. Of those, 91% were for simple possession, totaling just under 600,000. The FBI report also marked the second straight year that saw marijuana arrest numbers rise nationally. (Cannabis Now)
Comment by Global Ganja Report on Sep 27th, 2018 at 12:09 am

DoJ bias against medical marijuana

Bill Weinberg's picture From a June 26 New York Times story on Congressional testimony on politicization of the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr:
John W. Elias, a senior career official in the antitrust division, charged that his supervisors improperly used their powers to investigate the marijuana industry and a deal between California and four major automakers at the behest of Mr. Barr. He likened their efforts to burdensome harassment meant to punish companies for decisions the attorney general and the president opposed.

"Personal dislike of the industry is not a valid basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation," Mr. Elias said of the cannabis cases...

"At the direction of Attorney General Barr, the antitrust division launched 10 full-scale reviews of merger activity taking place in the marijuana, or cannabis, industry” because the attorney general “did not like the nature of their underlying business," Mr. Elias said in written testimony...

Mr. Elias, who served as chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, the head of the antitrust division, said that during a meeting in September, Mr. Delrahim "acknowledged at an all-staff meeting that the cannabis industry is unpopular 'on the fifth floor,' a reference to Attorney General Barr's offices."
Comment by Bill Weinberg on Jun 28th, 2020 at 7:16 pm

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