Jeff Sessions Asks Congress to Roll Back Medical Marijuana Protections

In a letter dated May 1, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked several leaders in Congress not to renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, a law that prevents the Department of Justice from using federal funds to inhibit states from implementing medical marijuana laws.

Sessions said that the amendment hinders the Justice Department’s power to carry out the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Under this act, cannabis is grouped alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

“The department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives,” wrote Sessions.

To support his argument, the former Alabama senator referenced drug trafficking, the current drug epidemic and a potential increase in drug-related violent crimes. He also referred to a study by Duke University that suggests frequent marijuana use during adolescence results in a lower IQ by middle age.

Sessions has long opposed legalizing marijuana. As a federal prosecutor in Alabama in the 1980s and 1990s, he supported harsher sentences for low-level drug offenses, including those involving marijuana. He rejected the idea that the United States would be a better place with more marijuana shops in a March 15 statement.

In 2017, Sessions withdrew a key part of the “Smart on Crime” initiative that ordered prosecutors not to cite the amount of drugs involved when prosecuting people for low-level and nonviolent drug crimes. He also said prosecutors should pursue the most serious available offense in federal cases.

Sessions’ Letter Sparks Fervent Reactions

After Sessions’ letter was made public, reactions were swift.

John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, told The Washington Post that the letter could influence certain members of Congress to vote against the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.

He also said that Sessions’ letter and a recent signing statement from President Donald Trump should make people wary of this administration’s past comments supporting medical marijuana legalization.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who helped introduce the law, told The Washington Post through a spokesman that Sessions’ stance on medical marijuana clashes with popular opinion. In April 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 94 percent of American voters support allowing adults to use medicinal marijuana upon a physician’s approval.

Marijuana Legalization: Positive and Negative Effects on States

Medical marijuana laws have had encouraging and troublesome effects on states, according to research.

For example, from 1999 to 2010, states with medical marijuana laws experienced an average of nearly 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths per year when compared to states without medical marijuana laws, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Furthermore, the number of youths in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska who currently used or had ever tried marijuana remained steady or declined after recreational marijuana was legalized.

A 2015 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the percentage of students in Colorado who reported trying marijuana in their lifetime decreased after the state legalized medical marijuana.

However, a 2016 report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the percentage of fatal vehicular accidents involving marijuana in Washington doubled from 2013 to 2014. The state legalized marijuana in 2012, and one in six fatal crashes in 2014 involved the drug.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.

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