Jeff Sessions is rescinding three memorandums that Obama put into place, memos that afforded protection from prosecution for states on board the bong wagon.
As most everyone knows by now, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level: Uncle Sam is a giant party pooper. But the states have fought back – California, the state most people see as the key to nationwide legalization – threw open its dispensary doors on New Year’s Day, joining a handful of other states that have legalized on the recreational level. In fact, it is precisely this that may be compelling Sessions to act. He knows he’s losing ground and losing it fast. Now it’s time for desperate measures.
Unfortunately, his desperate measures could rattle the industry.
What is the Cole Memo?
The main memo that Sessions is pulling is known as the “Cole Memo” – named for Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole in 2013. It mandated priorities for federal prosecutors working in states where cannabis has been legalized recreationally, medically, or both. Essentially, it took a hands-off approach and said that marijuana wasn’t a priority unless it threatened other federal laws (namely, selling to those under age or distributing to drug cartels).
As of this writing, the plan of action is unclear – Sessions will either revert back to ambiguity where state prosecutors are unsure about enforcing federal law, or he’ll issue new guidelines. Most likely, he’ll leave it to state attorneys to decide whether or not they’ll enforce federal law (the Cole Memo essentially told them not to).
We Saw This Coming…..
Most people in the industry feared this day was coming. We hoped it wouldn’t – we hoped Trump would fire Sessions just like he has fired pretty much everyone else (and he still could, Trump appears to think he’s hosting The Apprentice). But, with Sessions on board, we worried about something like this.
The reason for this worry is that Sessions doesn’t just dislike marijuana, he abhors it.
He’s asked for permission to go after medicinal marijuana (medicinal!), he blames the opioid crisis on weed, and he bases a person’s moral value on whether or not they smoke (in his mind, “good” people don’t). Sessions has stated that cannabis is as dangerous as heroin (despite both science and common sense refuting this), and he blames marijuana for an increase in violence.
Does Cannabis Actually Lead to an Increase in Violence?
The latter, in particular, has gained a great deal of attention – some studies do show that weed increases violent behavior. However, much of the research is limited. One study only looked at violence in men, the gender that is more violent regardless. Another study only looked at violence in those with pre-existing mental illness.
But, to give the research the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that marijuana can increase violence in some people. So can alcohol. Thus, if you’re not arguing to prohibit Budweiser because of violence, you shouldn’t be advocating for the prohibition of bud, either.
But What About Crime in Colorado?
Still, let’s look at the crime link a little closer. Many politicians like to use Colorado as an example for everything pot-related. Sure, we legalized first, but it was like thirty-seconds before Washington – pick on them too!
Nonetheless, people point to Colorado and say, “Just look at the crime statistics! Just look how much it’s increased since legalized weed has ruined everything!” But it’s not just violent crime Sessions and the naysayers are concerned about – it’s all crime. That seven-year-old who just swiped a pack of gum from a Denver 7-11? Clearly, clearly a dope fiend.
It’s true that crime in Colorado has seen an upswing. But, do you know who commits crime? People! And do you know who’s moving to Colorado in droves? People!
Let’s look at the most violent type of crime: murder rates.
According to the Denver Post, there were 57 murders in Denver in 2016 (which is a third of all murders in the entire state). This isn’t surprising – big cities are generally more dangerous than the suburbs. Even so, we saw similar numbers back in 2004, during a time when pot wasn’t legal. That’s how crime works – it ebbs and flows.
How does Denver compare to other major cities?
Omaha saw 29 murders in 2016, Minneapolis saw 100, and Chicago saw 762. To be fair, Chicago has a well-advertised problem with gun violence. It’s also about four times larger than Denver.
When we look at the cities that saw the biggest rise in murders in 2016, none of them are located inside legal states. The exception to this is Las Vegas, but weed wasn’t recreationally legal there until citizens voted it in during the November elections. It didn’t go on sale until summer 2017.
Local Denver law enforcement, unlike Sessions, aren’t as quick to blame the upswing in crime on Mary Jane. Rather, they blame some crime – like burglaries – on the number of transients who have moved to the area. Many relocate from warm-weather climates and find themselves breaking into homes or cars when the weather turns. Poverty is linked to crime regardless of pot legality.
They did note, however, that the largest increase in crime – motor vehicle thefts – may be tied to drug habits. People who are worried about getting their car stolen can minimize their risk by parking in the garage (if they have one), locking their doors, and having an alarm. Or you can do what I do – drive a stick. No one knows how to drive them anymore. And you can’t steal what you can’t drive.
Jeff Sessions, the Take-Backer
The memos regarding weed aren’t the only things Sessions has rescinded; he’s messing up the rights of the disabled as well. A few days before Christmas, he rescinded 25 guidance documents, including 10 on disability rights. Some of these documents codified the labor rights of disabled people. Happy holiday, as long as you’re able-bodied!
The rescinding won’t change the law – the law is the law and it will continue to protect the disabled. But it might change the understanding of the law and increase the odds that it won’t be enforced, leaving those who are disabled to suffer.
Those who fight for the rights of the disabled argue that Sessions’ take-back has to do with money, something that’s not far-fetched since it almost always does. It’s also keeping with his true colors – he’s consistently been apathetic about federal laws that protect people with disabilities.
He doesn’t seem to hate the disabled as much as he hates those who smoke pot, but he’ll go to bat for neither.