Out of all of the cabinet appointments that president-elect Donald Trump has made, none is more important to the freedom of the people of Maine than that of Senator Jeff Sessions to the post of Attorney General. That’s why his Senate confirmation hearing is so crucial: Listening to what he says he’ll do in his role atop the Justice Department provides important clues on what we can expect for the next few years.
One of the most important issues that Sessions can talk about is how the federal government will enforce its drug laws. After all, the recent increase of states, including Maine, legalizing marijuana for recreational or medicinal use was based in large part on President Obama’s lax enforcement of these laws. If Sessions changes course, it can drastically alter how things are done in our state.
Unfortunately, in his confirmation hearing so far, Sessions has been nothing but vague.
Right now, Maine allows people in our state to legally possess and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Medical marijuana is heavily regulated, with limitations on who can have it and how much they can have, but if you’re following the rules then you cannot be convicted for a drug crime.
The federal government, however, has its own set of drug laws. These laws trump conflicting state laws. According to the federal government, marijuana is still illegal. However, the federal government has decided not to vigorously enforce these marijuana laws, allowing states to legalize marijuana without worrying about federal law enforcement getting involved.
The agency most in charge of enforcing federal laws is the Department of Justice, which is run by the Attorney General. The man appointed to fill that role, Senator Sessions, has had a long history of being anti-marijuana, and has often criticized the Department of Justice under Obama for not enforcing federal drug laws. The worry, therefore, is that Sessions will rabidly enforce these laws and undo years of progress in state’s rights and personal freedom.
That’s why Sessions is being grilled by Senators in his confirmation hearing about his stance on marijuana. However, his responses have been vague, at best. When Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy asked him if, under his supervision, the Department of Justice would go after people using legal medical marijuana, Sessions gave a non-answer:
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law… I think some of [the Obama-era guidelines] are truly valuable in evaluating cases. Using good judgment about how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I know it won’t be an easy decision, but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”
What do we learn from these statements? Absolutely nothing. We might have to wait until he’s appointed to the post to see if Sessions will actually do what he’s long wanted to do.
William T. Bly is a criminal defense attorney in the state of Maine. He defends people against state and federal criminal charges, including for marijuana possession and other drug crimes. Contact his law office online or at (207) 571-8146 for vigorous defense.
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