This episode of 'Reality Check With Ben Swann' takes on Atty Gen. Jeff Sessions' War on Cannabis. Is Sessions' push to recreate the drug war of the 1980's actually going to have a reverse effect and cause even more legalization?
BEN SWANN: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ready to wage war on cannabis. Or, should I say, he wants to return to the drug war of the 1980s.
Iâ€™ve warned you about this before. But the latest step taken by Sessions should ignite a real debate over states rights. Meanwhile, even after Sessions' comments, cannabis has seen its biggest month ever in 2018.
This is a Reality Check you wonâ€™t get anywhere else.
Legalized cannabis just had an incredible month. January 1 of 2018 was a huge day for marijuana legalization.
On that day, California, the countryâ€™s most populous state and, by the way, the worldâ€™s 6th largest economy, officially launched the recreational marijuana industry.
More than 400 businesses were licensed as of January 1. Cities, including Los Angelesâ€”the most populous in Californiaâ€”began letting businesses sell cannabis for recreational use, adding dozens more approved licenses to the stateâ€™s total.
All of that happening, with the backdrop of Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempting to double down on his hatred of marijuana. And a move he made that, despite what he hopes, may actually increase legalized cannabis.
To understand that, we have to go back to 2013.
In 2013, the Obama administration letter issued a memo called the Cole memo that essentially told federal prosecutors to use discretion.
Specifically, it focused on states that had legalized cannabis or recreational and medical use. It told those prosecutors to use discretion, to focus not on businesses that comply with state regulations, but on illicit enterprises that create harms like selling drugs to children, operating with criminal gangs, selling across state lines, and so on.
That memo, on its own, was problematic because it still turned into criminals, parents who might live in a state like Georgia where cannabis oil is legal, but cultivating cannabis is not. Those parents have to cross state lines to get the cannabis they need, and that forces them to break the law.
But as messy as all of that was, Sessions just made it messier when last month he ordered that the Obama-era memo be rescinded.
So what does that actually mean?
It means that federal prosecutors no longer need to keep their hands, for most part, off of state licensed dispensaries. It also means that all U.S. Department of Justice enforcement memos issued before and after the Cole memo are now gone as well. That includes a 2014 memo dealing with money laundering laws. It gave guidance on how financial institutions should be dealt with if they want to provide banking for the cannabis industry.
But it also means something else. Because since Sessions has announced the rescinding of that memo, the backlash has come from a number of placesâ€”most importantly, from Congress.
There is a now a push to create a federal law that will require the DOJ to leave alone states where the cannabis industry is legal. Members of Congress are all about money, and they will likely move to protect an industry that is expected to generate $2.3 billion in state tax revenue by 2020.
And, even after the Sessions move, another state has just legalized recreational marijuana use.
According to Vox.com:
â€śâ€¦after Sessions announced his new marijuana policy, Vermont legislators, with the support of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, legalized marijuana for recreational use. The law wonâ€™t allow sales â€” only possession and growing. But itâ€™s a big move because Vermont is now the first state to have legalized marijuana through its legislature.â€ť
So what you need to know is that Jeff Sessions may hate marijuana, but polling numbers prove that, by and large, the majority of Americans hate the drug war even more.
In fact, the latest poll from Gallup shows 64 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuanaâ€”the highest number in half a century. Oh and, by the way, in that same poll, for the first time, a majority of Republicans favor legalization, with 51 percent expressing support.
The war on cannabis is coming to an end. But what would be almost ironic, is if Jeff Sessions' attempt to revive that war, was the catalyst to finally ending it for good.