Attorney General Jeff Sessions is terribly confused and wildly uninformed.
That, or he’s a liar.
Trump’s pick to head the Department of Justice has long opposed cannabis and enthusiastically supported the war on drugs. Though he reportedly recently assured congressional lawmakers he would not be instituting a crackdown on weed in states where it’s legal, his rhetoric against the increasingly accepted plant is concerning.
Sessions attracted headlines last week when he claimed “there is more violence” surrounding marijuana use than many people imagine. Of course, this is demonstrably false according to crime statistics from states where it is legal. As the Denver Post has noted, “there is one thing that legalization supporters, opponents and neutrals within Colorado agree on: It’s unlikely marijuana has much to do with Denver’s recent uptick in crime.”
As one meme quipped, the violence Sessions should have been referring to is caused by the war on drugs, which is now widely known to cause widespread, institutional violence.
Nevertheless, Sessions remains steadfast in his opposition to weed. In another false statement, Sessions claimed this week that marijuana is almost as dangerous as heroin. Speaking to law enforcement agents at the federal, state, and local level on Wednesday, Sessions boldly asserted:
…I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.
First, let’s examine the claim that legalizing cannabis will not help the heroin — and by extension, the opiate painkiller — crisis. One recent study indicated that in states that allow access to cannabis, overdoses from opiate drugs drop. That 2014 study concluded such deaths had decreased by as much as 25% in states with medical marijuana programs. Further, according to some reports — and in an apparent nightmare scenario for Sessions — some opiate addicts are switching to cannabis rather than continuing to use the deadly drug.
“They felt a lot better when their pain was being controlled by cannabis rather [than] opioids because opioids have a lot of side effects,” said Dan Clauw, a researcher investigating this trend.
It is unclear what exactly Sessions considers so “awful” about cannabis. In various forms, it is increasingly proving to help treat epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy, to name a few indications. As the government-run National Cancer Institute has acknowledged, preliminary research shows cannabis may help inhibit the growth of tumor cells by causing cell death.
Heroin and opiates do none of these things, except treat pain — a benefit clearly outweighed by the extreme risk of addiction and death these drugs pose (in contrast, even former Attorney General Loretta Lynch has admitted marijuana is not a gateway drug). From 1999 to 2015, 183,000 people in the United States died just from prescription opioids, and many painkiller addicts graduate to heroin out of desperation.
In contrast, research supports the medical potential of cannabis. This is particularly impressive considering the weed the government provides for academic research hardly even resembles healthy cannabis and is often covered in mold. Imagine what researchers might discover if they were studying cannabis similar to what individual users are actually consuming.
Nevertheless, Sessions correctly asserts preventative measures are vital to tackling drug abuse. But his other solutions, namely, criminal enforcement, are less viable. Even police officers are increasingly skeptical of the government’s ongoing war on marijuana. While many officers recognize the serious threat of heroin and painkillers, a recent survey of law enforcement showed marijuana is a top concern for fewer than 5% of those questioned.
Sessions is not only out of touch with research regarding cannabis, but also the priorities of the law enforcement agents he presides over.
Though he claims he will not aggressively pursue the plant, at least one U.S. attorney has already tried. Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden issued a warning to the organizers of High Times’ Cannabis Cup in Las Vegas, asserting they had incorrectly interpreted an Obama-era memorandum commanding the Department of Justice to respect state’s rights on marijuana. Though it’s doubtful Sessions had anything to do with this specific action, it’s possible his stance is already permeating the culture of the Department of Justice.
Whether Sessions is simply grossly uninformed about cannabis or is actually misrepresenting it to bolster his drug warrior approach, one thing is clear: his focus on “enforcement” ensures the failed policy will be in full swing for some time to come.