WASHINGTON — After winning big at the polls just last week, backers of marijuana legalization fear their movement took a major hit Friday when President-elect Donald Trump chose Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a staunch legalization opponent, as his attorney general.
At a Senate hearing in April, Sessions called marijuana “dangerous” and said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
And in a speech on the Senate floor earlier this year, Sessions criticized President Barack Obama for not being tough enough on marijuana, saying the U.S. could be at the beginning of “another surge in drug use like we saw in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”
“You have to have leadership from Washington,” Sessions said. “You can’t have the president of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink. … It is different. And you are sending a message to young people that there is no danger in this process. It is false that marijuana use doesn’t lead people to more drug use. It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal. I think we need to be careful about this.”
Aaron Herzberg, partner of general counsel of Calcann Holdings, LLC, a California medical marijuana real estate company, called Sessions “the worst pick that Trump could have made.”
“It appears that he is intent on rolling back policy to the 1980s Nancy Reagan’s ‘just say no’ days,” he said. “He has displayed open hostility to efforts to legalize marijuana.”
The big question is who will call the shots in the Trump administration. During the presidential campaign, Trump followed Obama’s lead in arguing that legalization should be left to the states.
As a result, both supporters and opponents of legalization are wondering what will happen next.
“Well, let’s just say that if I had marijuana stocks right now, I’d be shorting them,” said Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “This is a man who we know is staunchly anti-legalization. There’s no way around that. Things are about to get interesting.”
Marijuana backers said they’re hoping for the best, even if Sessions does get confirmed.
“While the pick certainly isn’t good news for marijuana reform, I’m still hopeful the new administration will realize that any crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don’t need,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group.
With a strong majority of Americans now supporting legalization, Angell said the new administration “would do well to take a look at the polling data on this issue before deciding what to do.”
Last week, voters doubled the number of states that will allow recreational use of marijuana, with California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine joining the list that already comprised Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon.
At the same time, voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas approved marijuana for medical use, while Montana residents voted to loosen restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana laws. They’ll be added to the list of 25 states that had voted earlier to allow using pot for medical reasons.
Legalization supporters lost in only one state, Arizona, where voters rejected a plan to tax and sell marijuana to adults.