Justice

Jeff Sessions Explains Why He Opposes Legal Marijuana

Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered some insight into his opposition to marijuana legalization on Monday.

jeff-sessions

In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said "experts" had informed him of violence in the legal industry and that the potency of cannabis today was "unhealthy." He also implied that state-level legalization was leading to increased youth consumption.

"I'm definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana," Sessions said. "States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not."

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Sessions' comments come days after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the Justice Department would ramp up enforcement efforts in states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use. 

Legalization advocates were quick to point out some of the problems with Sessions' remarks.

Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority, weighed in on the attorney general's proposed link between the legal marijuana industry and violence.

"By talking about marijuana and violence, the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not.," Angell told ATTN:. "The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market."

In terms of potency, Sessions is right that levels of THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis — are higher today than it was in, say, the 1970s. But the idea that increased potency makes the product more dangerous isn't grounded in any real evidence. As ATTN: previously reported, there's an argument to be made that more potent marijuana will lead consumers to smoke less to achieve the desired effect.

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As far as youth marijuana use is concerned, studies looking at consumption trends in legal states have found that people under 18 are actually using cannabis less. The lack of a spike in youth consumption in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, has comforted the state's governor, John Hickenlooper. He told NBC News on Sunday that he's "getting close" to fully supporting recreational marijuana for that very reason.

"We didn’t see a spike in teenage use," Hickenlooper said. "If anything, it’s come down in the last year. And we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers."

This isn't the first time Sessions has promoted misleading claims about cannabis and its users. In his capacity as head of the U.S. Department of Justice, though, it's another concerning development as legalization advocates await a formalized federal marijuana policy.

"Attorney General Sessions' latest comments are completely fictitious, they describe a reality that only exists in the world of alternative facts," NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a statement Monday. "Marijuana legalization has not lead to increased violence, but rather has lead to lowered youth use rates, increased tax revenue, and fewer arrests of otherwise law abiding American citizens."

"The truth is that legalization is working and the views recently espoused by Attorney General Sessions are reckless, irresponsible, and outright false," Altieri added.