Session's DOJ'S Joint Effort to Roll Back on Mary Jane

By: Jalen Nash

In recent years, advocates for the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana have made great advances. The first state to legalize medical marijuana was California in 1996, while the first to legalize the drug for recreational use was Colorado in 2012. Since these two pioneering decisions, twenty eight other states have legalized the drug for medicinal use and seven other states, plus D.C. has legalized it for recreational uses. Currently, an estimated sixty percent of Americans support the legalization of the drug. Despite public consensus favoring legalization, the members of the newly elected Trump administration, namely the newly appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, have voiced their disapproval. Jeff Sessions has made comments such as “I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” and “good people don’t smoke marijuana”. His personal feelings on the matter have influenced his policy proposals.

The Obama administration, under Attorney General Eric Holder, was very progressive in its approach to marijuana, delegating the responsibility to enforce these laws to the states instead of the federal government, and even commuting the sentences of people in prison under harsh drug laws. Sessions has been looking to undo this progress and once again make marijuana law enforcement a federal issue. In a recent memo, Sessions revealed his vision for our criminal justice system, writing, “Any inconsistent previous policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters is recorded, effective today”.  In this memo, Sessions pushes back on the Obama-era stance of saving the most severe sentences for serious drug crimes, instead of relatively low-level offenses. He concludes that “prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” And states that “prosecutors must disclose to the sentencing court all facts that impact sentencing guidelines”. Instead of a practical and empathetic approach to crimes, Sessions believes that a strict, severe and decisive justice system is the best way to go.

Nowhere in this memo does the word “marijuana” or any references thereof appear. With a criminal justice system that prosecutes more drug crimes than anything else, marijuana undoubtedly plays a major role in these policy decisions.

Implementing some of these policies can only serve to increase our prison population and severely impact communities of color. Handing out severe sentences for low-level offenses is a mistake. Not only will it make life harder for the individual, post conviction, but it will tear apart families and entire communities for a longer period of time. This does nothing to reduce crime.

While maintaining justice is important, our system should not be focused on giving criminals the most severe punishment possible, but instead on giving a fair punishment that will discourage them from committing crimes in the future. The role of our criminal justice system is to enforce the law, not as an ends, but as a form of rehabilitation. As time goes on, with the majority of people in favor of its legalization, our current administration is standing against the people on the issue of marijuana. Jeff Sessions believes that by stepping up the urgency of law enforcement agents and ensuring stricter prosecution policies, America will become a safer country. However, his stance, when mixed with public opinion, does little to accomplish this goal. Instead, it puts Americans at the mercy of laws that the majority of them do not agree with. That said, it would be fair to conclude that Sessions' proposals on enforcing federal marijuana policy and increasing the length of drug sentencing laws will do more to hurt the American people, than the drug itself.

Unfortunately for Sessions, his mission to crack down on marijuana has been met with much opposition and very little support--even from his own party. This lack of support is exemplified in a recent budget proposal which allocates $0 to federal marijuana enforcement tactics.

Jalen Nash