U.S. Attorney General nominee Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions was evasive when asked about how he would approach legalized cannabis during the first round of his confirmation hearings yesterday, testifying that handling those cases “won’t be an easy decision.”
When pressed by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont about whether he would “investigate and prosecute sick people” using cannabis legally, Sessions said he “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law.”
“The Department of Justice under [Attorney General Loretta] Lynch and [former Attorney General David] Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion, parts of marijuana,” he said, indicating he would try to execute the duties of the office in a “fair and just way.”
During a follow-up question from Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah about state’s rights, Session’s said that if cannabis prohibition was “not desired any longer” at the federal level Congress “should pass a law and change the rule.”
“It’s not so much the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, expressed hope that Sessions’ belief that the Justice Department’s current cannabis policy enforcement guidelines are “truly valuable…should lead [Sessions] to maintain the current federal policy.”
Marijuana Policy Project Director of Federal Policies also expressed optimism because Sessions was non-committal to enforcing federal cannabis laws.
“He was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach, and he passed on it,” Capecchi said in a Star-Telegram report.
However Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that Sessions’ responses to the cannabis questions were unclear in terms of whether he would take any action.
“If anything, his comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states,” he said.
Sessions’ confirmation hearings continue today.