Jeff Sessions may hate pot, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be a total buzzkill

 In Legalization, Medical Marijuana, National News, Regulation

Jesse Gessin is deputy federal public defender in Southern California and a lecturer in trial advocacy at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Michael Chernis is a Los Angeles-based attorney and expert specializing in the cannabis industry. With decades of experience as an attorney handling high-profile big business cases and civil rights issues, he has lobbied on behalf of dispensaries to have more open laws surrounding medical marijuana. The opinions in this article belong to the authors.

(CNN) What does the nomination of US Sen. Jeff Sessions, now likely to be the next US attorney general pending Senate approval, mean for the fast-growing cannabis industry?

Although his past comments about marijuana are, to be kind, “odd,” and give great reason to question his suitability as attorney general, it may be too early for panic by marijuana advocates.

According to a report by Arcview Market Research and New Frontier, the legal US cannabis market will reach nearly $23 billion within four years.

With the latest election results, about 60 percent of Americans now live in states where marijuana is at least partially legally available. And recreational use of marijuana has grown exponentially year-over-year in states where it’s legal.

One reason for the rapid growth has been the Department of Justice’s decision not to enforce federal controlled-substance laws in states where cannabis businesses operate in compliance with local regulations. That may all change.

The attorney general is the country’s top federal prosecutor, setting priorities for the 93 US attorneys across the country that run each local jurisdiction. US attorneys customarily change over with each new administration.

The new US attorneys account for the attorney general’s national priorities when setting their own for their respective jurisdictions. They have the flexibility to target select federal crimes, often assembling interagency task forces for just this purpose.

The billion-dollar question is whether, if approved, Sen. Sessions, and the next class of US attorneys, will seek to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle by targeting the cannabis industry.

From 1981 to 1993, Sessions was US attorney for Alabama’s Southern District. For six years before that, Sessions was an assistant US attorney. During his tenure as a federal prosecutor, Sessions was tough on drug crimes, fully embracing Nancy Reagan’s “War on Drugs.”

His work as a federal prosecutor led President Reagan to nominate him in 1986 for a federal judgeship. A Republican-controlled Senate declined to confirm Sessions, largely due to allegations of racism toward African-Americans.


Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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