WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general in the Trump administration despite fierce Democratic opposition to the Alabama Republican over his record on civil rights and immigration.
Cannabis advocates reacted with caution to the confirmation of Sessions, who has previously signaled opposition to marijuana-legalization efforts, but did not seem eager to make pot restrictions a centerpiece issue during his confirmation hearings.
“We look forward to Attorney General Sessions maintaining the current federal policy of respect for legal, regulated cannabis programs in the states, and we will work with him to do that,” said National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith.
“A change in policy will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales shifting from state-regulated businesses back to the criminal, underground market,” Smith said. “State-legal cannabis businesses generate billions of dollars in economic activity and support tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. President Trump has promised Americans a thriving economy, and these businesses play a key role in 28 states.”
Citing Sessions’ previous harsh statements about marijuana, Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, was less optimistic.
“Jeff Sessions’ views are out of step with mainstream America and they are in conflict with the laws regarding marijuana in over half of the states in this country,” he said.
The 52-47 nearly party-line vote capped weeks of divisive battles over Sessions, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and one of the Senate’s most conservative lawmakers.
Democrats laced into Sessions, casting him as too cozy with Trump and too harsh on immigrants. They asserted he wouldn’t do enough to protect voting rights of minorities, protections for gays and the legal right of women to obtain an abortion. They fear immigrants in the country illegally won’t receive due process with Session as the top law enforcement officer.
“Any attorney general must be able to stand firm for the rule of law even against the powerful executive that nominated him or her. In this administration I believe that independence is even more necessary,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “His (Sessions’) record raises doubts about whether he can be a champion for those who need this office most and it also raises doubts about whether he can curb unlawful overreach” by Trump.
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Republicans say Sessions has demonstrated over a long career in public service — and two decades in the Senate — that he possesses integrity, honesty and is committed to justice.
“He’s honest. He’s fair. He’s been a friend to many of us, on both sides of the aisle,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “It’s been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law. He believes strongly in the equal application of it to everyone.”
Sessions won unanimous backing from Senate Republicans but picked up the support of just one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Wednesday’s vote came amid rising tension between Republicans controlling the chamber over delaying tactics by minority Democratic that have left fewer of Trump’s picks in place than President Barack Obama had eight years ago. Democrats no longer have filibuster power over Cabinet picks, however, after changing Senate rules when they controlled the chamber in 2013.
This week has featured overnight, round-the-clock Senate sessions as GOP leaders are grinding through a thicket of controversial picks.
Epitomizing the sharp-edged partisanship surrounding confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was given a rare rebuke Tuesday evening for quoting Coretta Scott King, widow of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., in her 1986 criticism of Sessions.
King wrote that as an acting federal prosecutor in Alabama, Sessions used his power to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
McConnell held that the Massachusetts Democrat had run afoul of rules about impugning a fellow senator.
Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship was rejected three decades ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee after it was alleged that as a federal prosecutor he had called a black attorney “boy” and had said organizations like the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union were un-American.
At his hearing last month, Sessions said he had never harbored racial animus, saying he had been falsely caricatured.
Aaron Herzberg, an attorney and marijuana real estate advisor based in Costa Mesa, pointed out that Sessions dodged questions during his confirmation hearings about whether he’d let states that have adopted marijuana laws continue to move forward without federal interference.
“The accepted logic in the marijuana industry is that the industry has grown too big to put the cat back in the bag, and that it’s impossible for Sessions and the Trump administration to reverse the policies that have allowed a multi billion dollar legal marijuana industry to emerge in 28 states,” he said. “However, those who have been in the industry for some time have seen the federal government take aggressive positions on marijuana that are contrary to public opinion.
“It’s unlikely Sessions (and Trump) will stamp out medical and recreational marijuana,” Herzberg said. “What’s clear is that while marijuana enforcement may not be a top priority for Jeff Sessions, he is not going to be a friend of the fast-growing industry.”
Cannifornian staff contributed to this report.