Jeff Sessions's Reefer Madness

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, someone whom many of us consider asleep at the wheel concerning high level corruption at the FBI and DOJ, has woken up. No longer lurking in the weeds while Congressional committees and intrepid bloggers are peeling back the layers of the onion on deep state corruption, Sessions has moved from the weeds to weed itself.

The AG this past week announced very simply that federal law regarding marijuana will be enforced. The left is apoplectic, even distracted a bit from the Trump-Russia collusion narrative and the recent tell-all book about President Trump, which is turning out to be more fiction than fact. Author Michael Wolff should have called his book, “Fifty Shades of Trump”.

Here in Colorado, the liberal Denver Post is predictably outraged over Sessions’ decision, especially since marijuana has replaced skiing, hiking 14ers, and sunny days as what Colorado is now noted for.  The Denver Post editorial board wrote,

“We are unable to see any benefit to disturbing the robust recreational marijuana industry and beneficial medical marijuana care system in Colorado that has for the most part diligently followed state laws aimed at keeping the drug out of the hands of children, inside state borders and off the black market. The industry is paying substantial taxes and licensing fees and creating jobs. Shame on Sessions for trying to destroy what Colorado has built.”

Interesting choice of words, “for the most part”. As in how Hillary Clinton handled classified information properly, “for the most part”? Is that 51-49 or 99-1 “for the most part”?

The problem is that marijuana is illegal under federal law. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper correctly noted, "Federal law supersedes state law.” It was the last White House administration, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson described, “Who put those views into play in the fashion characteristic of the Obama administration: through executive overreach that undermined the rule of law.”

Specifically it was, “The Cole memo, which directed the DOJ to forgo prosecuting marijuana providers in states where their businesses are legal, focusing its resources instead on organized crime and international trafficking.”

So, the Obama Administration chose to ignore federal law, giving the marijuana industry a pass. Reefer madness and no surprise. Much of Obamacare was dictated via executive order rather than following statutory law passed by Congress.

Colorado’s Republican NeverTrump Senator, Cory Gardner, ran to the microphone even faster than Chuck Schumer, denouncing the decision that, “Has trampled on the will” of Colorado voters. In other words, Senator Gardner is upset that the AG is doing his job enforcing laws that the Senator and his colleagues voted on and passed. I would think he would be more upset if the AG ignored laws passed by Congress as AG Holder did, but silly me for thinking so foolishly of my representative in “the world’s greatest deliberative body”.

Here it is, in the US Code, spelling it all out. Even the US Supreme Court agreed in the 2005 Gonzales v Raich case, ruling that, “Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown cannabis even if states approve its use for medicinal purposes.”

I’m not arguing for or against legalized marijuana or the politics of AG Sessions’ decision as that is entirely separate issue. It is, however, interesting to briefly observe some of the consequences of legalizing marijuana here in Colorado beginning in 2014.

Traffic collisions are up. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found a 14 percent increase in collision claims in Colorado. Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health found no increase in vehicular fatalities. Just because a crash is not fatal doesn’t mean there wasn’t injury, property damage, and cost. 

During a similar time period, heroin deaths in Colorado have doubled. Related to marijuana? Or the prevalence of prescription opioids? Or both? And now it’s legal to defecate and urinate on Denver sidewalks. From the Mile High City to the Poop City. I’m not blaming this on marijuana legalization, instead noting how a declining cultural tide lowers all boats.

Despite the outrage from states with legal weed, now including California, AG Sessions’ action is anything but outrageous. Since when can states decide which federal laws they want to ignore? Many states are already ignoring federal immigration law by declaring themselves sanctuary cities or states, as California has done. Ask Kate Steinle how that’s working out.

Suppose states decided to ignore other laws. What if Idaho decided that machine guns were legal? Or if Utah decided that same sex marriage and abortion were not? Or if Kansas decided to remove all speed limits on interstate highways running through their state? States’ rights are one thing, but there’s still that pesky Supremacy Clause in the US Constitution.

Deputy AG Rosenstein made the separation of powers clear in a tweet from the DOJ. “From now on, our Department will not usurp Congress’s job of making the rules. We will stick to enforcing them.”

The solution is quite simple. Congress can change the law. Perhaps they are winded from their only bit of exercise this year, passing the tax bill. Cory Gardner belongs to the majority party in the Senate, for at least another year. Why doesn’t he introduce legislation legalizing marijuana nationwide? Easy peasy. Problem solved.

Maybe not so easy. Just look at repealing Obamacare. Perhaps Senators in legal-weed states prefer to virtue signal to their constituents and donors rather than doing their jobs. Blabbing on cable news shows about mean Jeff Sessions, and by default, Donald Trump.

Maybe AG Sessions did this as a means of kicking Congress to do its job.  Despite his personal antipathy toward drugs, his job is to enforce the laws passed by Congress. He may be forcing the issue, tired of turning a blind eye to his oath of office. Coming out of the weeds to settle this issue once and for all. Let members of Congress go on record with legal marijuana, accountable for the consequences. Whether good or bad.

Even the Denver Post get this. “We now look to Republicans in Congress and Trump — who once assured Colorado voters he would honor states’ rights on this issue — to remedy the situation with a change in federal law.”

Now the reefer madness ball is in Congress’s court.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter.