The confirmation hearing for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to serve as the U.S. Attorney General, begins this morning at 9:30 a.m. ET. You can view the live feed here. Sessions is opposed by civil rights groups and championed by law enforcement, which, together, signal poorly for marijuana. On the specific issue of federal marijuana prohibition, we wrote on his nomination day that the Senator has been hostile to marijuana for a long time.
If each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee votes with his or her party, Sessions will pass by a vote of 11 to 9. That seems likely, as there have been no reported signs that any Republicans will defect, either in the committee or on the Senate floor. Still, Democrats have the opportunity to ask some tough questions on a variety of topics. It is our sincere hope that somebody takes the opportunity to drill down from civil rights to marijuana legalization, and specifically, to enforcement of the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
As it stands, a hostile, Sessions-led Department of Justice (DOJ) could attempt to kneecap marijuana policy reform nationwide. Its options would include everything from suing states to block implementation of marijuana programs, to leveraging the CSA’s asset forfeiture provisions against pot businesses and related parties. These actions would likely be massively unpopular, but they would be well within the power of a hostile administration – even one that ostensibly supports limited government and states’ rights.
Fortunately, there is a bipartisan majority in each chamber of Congress that appears interested in seeing states, and not federal law enforcement, lead on the issue of cannabis legalization. If Congress continues to prohibit the DOJ from chasing state medical marijuana actors, it may be hard for Sessions to keep the jails as full as he would like. There is also a possibility that as much as Sessions dislikes pot, he may have other priorities, at least to start.
As of today, there is probably more uncertainty than at any point in the past few years with respect to enforcement of federal prohibition. Anyone interested in federal marijuana policy would be well served to tune into today’s hearings, and to closely monitor the hearings of other Trump nominees like Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who has been nominated to serve as Secretary for Health and Human Services (and also has a very poor record on pot). Mr. Price is set for hearing next week.