Congress on col­li­sion course with Ses­sions

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Nathan Howard

Congress is head­ing for a con­fronta­tion with At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions over pot.

Ses­sions is seek­ing to crack down on mar­i­juana use while law­mak­ers from both par­ties are push­ing leg­is­la­tion that would do the op­po­site.

Mea­sures have been at­tached to must-pass bills in the Sen­ate that would al­low Vet­er­ans Af­fairs doc­tors to coun­sel pa­tients on the use of med­i­cal mar­i­juana, and to con­tinue block­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment from pur­su­ing cases against peo­ple who use med­i­cal mar­i­juana in states that have le­gal­ized it.

Some law­mak­ers are push­ing to go even fur­ther. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jer­sey Demo­crat, this week un­veiled leg­is­la­tion that would le­gal­ize mar­i­juana at the fed­eral level. In the House, Repub­li­can Matt Gaetz of Florida pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would change the fed­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion of mar­i­juana to al­low re­search and a range of med­i­cal uses.

Booker said the law needs to be changed be­cause mi­nori­ties and the poor are dis­pro­por­tion­ately ar­rested for what amounts to a mi­nor of­fense.

“It dis­turbs me right now that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions is not mov­ing as the states are — mov­ing as pub­lic opin­ion is — but ac­tu­ally say­ing that we should be dou­bling down and en­forc­ing fed­eral mar­i­juana laws even in states that have made mar­i­juana le­gal,” he said in a video on Face­book.

Eight states have fully le­gal­ized mar­i­juana for adult use, and 21 more have le­gal­ized it for med­i­cal use only. Fed­eral law con­tin­ues to ban the use and sale of cannabis. Dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Jus­tice Depart­ment didn’t ac­tively pros­e­cute mar­i­juana of­fend­ers, an ap­proach Ses­sions has said needs to change.

“I’m not sure we’re go­ing to be a bet­ter, health­ier na­tion,” he said in Fe­bru­ary, “if we have mar­i­juana be­ing sold at ev­ery cor­ner gro­cery store.” He later added, “My best view is that we don’t need to be le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana.”

In April, Ses­sions put out a memo to U.S. at­tor­neys about his crime-re­duc­tion ef­forts and said one of his sub­com­mit­tees will “un­der­take a re­view of ex­ist­ing poli­cies in the ar­eas of charg­ing, sen­tenc­ing, and mar­i­juana to en­sure con­sis­tency with the depart­ment’s over­all strat­egy on re­duc­ing vi­o­lent crime and with ad­min­is­tra­tion goals and pri­or­i­ties.”

Sarah Flores, a Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman, de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter.

The pres­i­dent re­peat­edly has ex­pressed his dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Ses­sions, a for­mer se­na­tor from Alabama, for re­cus­ing him­self from a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether there was col­lu­sion be­tween Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and Rus­sia. The new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told Ses­sions in a phone call dur­ing the

week­end that Trump doesn’t in­tend to fire him, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tion.

The Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion mea­sure, spon­sored by Repub­li­can Sen. Steve Daines of Mon­tana and Demo­cratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Ore­gon, was added to a bill ap­proved by the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee on July 13. The mea­sure pre­vent­ing funds from be­ing used to crack down on med­i­cal mar­i­juana was spon­sored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Ver­mont Demo­crat, and was ap­proved by the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee on July 27.

The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress is on record sup­port­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Since 2014, the Jus­tice Depart­ment spend­ing bill has in­cluded lan­guage that blocks funds from be­ing used to en­force fed­eral law re­lat­ing to med­i­cal mar­i­juana in states where the drug is le­gal.

Gaetz, the Florida law­maker who in­tro­duced his mar­i­juana leg­is­la­tion in April, said at the time that pot shouldn’t be clas­si­fied by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment the same way as heroin or LSD.

“We do not need to con­tinue with a pol­icy that turns thou­sands of young peo­ple into felons ev­ery year,” he said in a state­ment. “Nor do we need to pun­ish the mil­lions of peo­ple who are sick and seek­ing med­i­cal help -- from pain, from mus­cle wast­ing, from chemo­ther­apy-in­duced nau­sea.”

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