What is U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions working on today that affects the cannabis industry, and who is he working on it with? If the most recent meeting held just two weeks ago is any indication, he’s digging in deeper in his quest to stop legalization, and calling in bigger policy and researcher guns to back him up.
In addition to ducking the jabs from the President Trump who is reportedly still dogging him for his recusal stunt, Sessions attended a meeting December 8 put together by the former attorney general under Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, along with the Heritage Foundation, coming together at the Department of Justice with a group of anti-marijuana folks who clearly want to provide the attorney general some go-get-’em firepower.
One of the attendees at this meeting was Dr. Bertha Madras. I attended a meeting at the Brookings Institution on November 3 featuring Madras as a panelist. She is a psychobiology professor at Harvard Medical School and a member of the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. She discussed the recommendations from the committee. She also claimed at that meeting that data about marijuana overdoses was being withheld, affecting the work of the commission in presenting all the facts about the scourge of marijuana addiction. “People who use marijuana for pain medications also have higher rates of opioid use and opioid use disorder,” she said at the Brookings Institute panel. “The data for long-term outcomes – the suppression of evidence that marijuana is addictive – parallels what is happening in the opioid crisis.”
Others in the room for the meeting at the DOJ that was closed to the press included Meese, now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus at Heritage. Also present were Robert DuPont, the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse; David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition; and Dr. Hoover Adger, professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of adolescent medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
To say nothing good could come from this stew of anti-marijuana power players is a grim understatement.
In a letter to the New York Times in April, 2016, DuPont, now the president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, wrote: “We are at a crossroads. Legalizing marijuana will have lasting negative effects on future generations. The currently legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, are two of the leading causes of preventable illness and death in the country. Establishing marijuana as a third legal drug will increase the national drug abuse problem, including expanding the opioid epidemic.”
In a 2012 U.S. News op-ed, Evans, who was also a leading member of the National Student Drug-Testing Committee, wrote “‘The ‘war’ on drugs has improved the nation’s health and is a good social policy.”
Dr. Adger is one of a dozen doctors on the staff of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an organization that “envisions a society where marijuana policies are aligned with the scientific understanding of marijuana’s harms, and the commercialization and normalization of marijuana are no more.”
Though no report from the meeting was available, nor has any surfaced since the meeting, freezing and zooming into a brief CSPAN video from the beginning of the meeting when Sessions arrived showed him holding a printed page listing the agenda that included discussions of marijuana not being a substitute for opioids, drugged driving and other anti-marijuana points.
“Well, thank you for coming,” Sessions said as he sat and addressed the group and set the tone. “I appreciate the opportunity to hear your analysis on marijuana and some of the related issues. It’s a big issue for America, and for the country. I am of the general view that this is not a healthy substance. I think that is pretty clear. And then as a policy response, we and the federal government need to be prepared and do so appropriately and with good sense. I do believe and am afraid that the public is not properly educated on some of the issues related to marijuana. That is what all of us working here today would want to do is to allow better policy to be enacted.” Then the CSPAN camera guy was hustled out of the room.
Speculation is that the ensuing discussion centered around what to do about the Cole memo, which Sessions appears to have in his crosshairs (“In fact, we’re working on that very hard right now,” he said at a press conference recorded by CSPAN in late November.) There may also have been discussion about action on the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.
Maybe arch-conservative Meese had an angle to present regarding decriminalization efforts, since he did demonstrate an understanding of issues related to wrongful incarceration in the introduction he wrote to a book published years ago by two Heritage Foundation veterans, Paul Rosenzweig and Brian Walsh, “One Nation Under Arrest.” But that’s just wishful thinking.
Meese and Sessions seem to be on the same page when it comes to being against marijuana legalization and following the letter of the law. Meese has called Session a good friend – they have known each other for 35-plus years. Sessions was one of Ronald Reagan’s first appointees as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Alabama during the “Just Say No” days.
And this was not the first time that Meese invited Sessions to talk about his work as attorney general and address drug policy.
At the Heritage Fall Legal Strategy forum in October 2017 moderated by Meese, Sessions said that the country should adopt a “just say no” mentality about drugs, echoing voices from the past. Then he talked about marijuana. “I do think that this whole country needs to not be so lackadaisical about drugs,” he said. “You talk to police chiefs and they consistently say much of the drug addiction starts with marijuana, and that it is not a harmless drug. So the challenge for law enforcement is really tough and we are going to be working on that.”