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Where Jeff Sessions’ temporary replacement stands on marijuana

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 18, 2017 US Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify as as Matthew G. Whitaker (R), Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions smiles during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. - US attorney general Jeff Sessions said he is resigning at Trump's request on November 7, 2018. Matthew G. Whitaker will be the new Acting Attorney General. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP)SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify in October 2017 as Matthew G. Whitaker, right, chief of staff to Sessions, smiles during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.

Anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions tendered his resignation on Wednesday, one day after Republicans lost control of the House.

That left cannabis policy observers scrambling to find out where the temporary replacement at the top of the Department of Justice, Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker, stands on marijuana.

Here’s what Marijuana Moment found in our initial review.

During a 2014 primary debate for the Republican US Senate nomination from Iowa, Whitaker sympathized with patients who benefit from marijuana ingredient cannabidiol (CBD). But he also voiced concerns about the disconnect between state legalization efforts and the enforcement of federal law under the administration of former president Barack Obama.

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During the debate, hosted by Iowa Public Television, he was asked about the state’s recent passage of a CBD-only medical cannabis law.

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“First of all, I know a couple of families that are going to be positively impacted by what has happened in the state Senate today,” he said. “And I applaud them for helping those families who need that help.”

Whitaker then turned to the Justice Department’s marijuana policy under Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder.

“But what we have is we have an attorney general that is telling state attorney generals, ‘if you disagree with a law, you don’t have to enforce it.’ And I am gravely concerned that we are now going to go back and forth between who’s in the White House and what their drug enforcement policy is, and you’ll see under what we have now — where you have Colorado and other states legalizing it really with no federal interference — and then when we come back, we may have a different regulatory scheme.”

Well, then, what should Congress do to resolve those differences?

“I think Congress should regulate things that harm people, and that is the hard drugs and the like that dramatically hurt citizens, cause violent crime in our communities, and those should be regulated,” he said.

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“But not marijuana?” the debate moderator asked.

“For me, I saw the impact of marijuana on our border,” he said, presumably referring to his time as a US attorney. “And if you go to any of the counties in Texas where there’s an illegal importation of marijuana, there’s a tremendous amount of violence.”

Marijuana reform advocates have generally applauded the announcement of Sessions’ resignation, as the now former attorney general has a long history of demeaning cannabis consumers, disregarding research about the benefits of medical marijuana, and upholding federal prohibition.

“Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace, NORML hopes he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950’s reefer madness,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a press release.

US Representative Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon, called the move a “major step forward for marijuana reform,” also noting that US Representative Pete Sessions, of Texas, who has obstructed votes on marijuana-related legislation as chair of the House Rules Committee, was defeated in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The two are not related despite sharing the same last name and a disdain for cannabis.

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However, there’s also an argument to be made that Sessions’ departure from the office could ultimately pose threats to the legal cannabis movement. Sessions and President Trump have had a contentious relationship almost from the start of the administration, and the attorney general’s reluctance to crack down on legal cannabis states could theoretically be attributed, in part, to that dynamic. The next attorney general could enjoy some more flexibility when it comes to enforcing federal marijuana laws.

For his part, US Senator Cory Gardner, of Colorado, said on Tuesday that he’s looking forward to “continuing to work with the President to fulfill his campaign position to leave the regulation of marijuana to the states.”

Trump has already said he’s actively pursuing a permanent replacement for Sessions, so it’s unclear what, if anything, Whitaker could achieve during his temporary stint as acting attorney general, or how long his tenure will last.

Read the full story on Marijuana Moment.