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Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. speaks to media at Trump Tower, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Here's why Jeff Sessions could spell trouble for pot advocates, unless Congress steps in


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Donald Trump's nomination of  Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General could be a major setback for pot advocates. The Alabama Republican has fought fiercely against legalizing pot, and could crack down on states that have legalized the drug, since it's still banned under federal law. 

Sessions' record on weed 

Sessions has been famously vocal about his aversion to legalized marijuana. 

"We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger," he said at an April Senate hearing. 

He argued that lawmakers in Congress need to send a message that weed is dangerous and "good people don't smoke marijuana." 

Should the federal government reschedule marijuana?

Taking states to court

Because weed is still illegal under federal law, the Department of Justice could file lawsuits against states with legalized pot, on the grounds that those states' laws are unconstitutional because they conflict with federal law. 

The DOJ could also compel states to comply with federal law, much like it did when Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

We're very concerned that if [Sessions] becomes attorney general that he is going to increase raids against state legalized dispensaries.
Bill Piper, Drug Policy Alliance

More raids 

Sessions could direct the Drug Enforcement Administration to raid dispensaries in states where pot is legal. 

It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. President Obama authorized hundreds raids on legal medical pot dispensaries in his first term. He eased up after Congress attached language to the 2015 spending bill that banned the DOJ from using federal money to prevent states from carrying out new their new laws on legal weed. 

Congress to the rescue? 

There are several ways lawmakers in Congress could stop a Sessions crusade against marijuana. They could reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Right now, pot is a Schedule I drug, which mean the DEA considers it to have a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. 

Another, more likely solution, is that Congress could pass new legislation that would protect states with legalized weed from federal prosecution. 


Last year, Sens. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) introduced the CARERS Act, which would reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug and would protect people using pot in compliance with state laws. 

The bill has been reviewed in committee but has not made it to the floor for a vote. 

New Jersey moving toward legalization

Sessions still has to be confirmed by the Senate before he can take any action against states with pot laws, but New Jersey isn't taking any chances.

Lawmakers in the garden state said Monday that they were planning to move forward with legalization after Gov. Chris Christie's term ends in 2018. 

Donald Trump said during his campaign that he favors letting states decide whether pot should be legalized. 

In many ways, the toothpaste is out of the tube. It certainly would be hard for Sen. Sessions or the Trump administration to put it back in the tube.
Bill Piper, Drug Policy Alliance

Growing reefer madness 

There are now 29 states that have legalized pot in some form, and experts say the trend toward legalization indicates that Sessions would face strong opposition in Congress if he decided to take action against pot. 

"I think that, if California hadn’t legalized in this last election there would be a pretty significant danger of that, but now because of California I think that danger is greatly lessened," said Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. 

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