Massachusetts Daily Collegian

State’s rights versus Jeff Sessions

By Edridge D'Souza

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions campaigns for Donald Trump on Oct 10, 2016 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Michael Brochstein/Zuma Press/TNS)

Michael Brochstein/Zuma Press/TNS

Recreational cannabis is set to become legal in Massachusetts this Thursday. For residents, this has massive implications in terms of criminal justice reform, taxpayer money spent on policing nonviolent crime and the prison-industrial complex.

The war on drugs is simply failing: the left can appreciate that legalizing cannabis will improve communities by placing a major block on the school-to-prison pipeline, while the right will take solace in the fact that Massachusetts is starting to abandon an increasingly expensive and unsustainable system. In other words, we seem to be re-learning what we found out almost a century ago—prohibition doesn’t work and, if anything, it causes more crime.

However, if the year 2016 has taught us any lessons, it’s that good things won’t last very long before the bad news sets in. As it turns out, President-elect Donald Trump is expected to pick Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for the post of Attorney General.

This has drawn ample criticism from Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has stated that Trump should reverse his decision to pick Sessions because of his history of bigotry. It should be rather revealing that his colleagues have testified that he has stated that he thought the Ku Klux Klan were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”

Putting aside what an Attorney General Sessions could mean for the prison-industrial complex among Black, Hispanic and Native American neighborhoods, this should also be extremely worrying to anyone who believes in taking a liberal to moderate stance on cannabis.

As the nation’s top law enforcement official, Sessions would have the power to undo much of the progress that the individual states have made since 2012. Current Attorney General Loretta Lynch has admitted that the evidence doesn’t point to marijuana being a gateway drug in the ongoing heroin epidemic. The Obama administration had specifically pursued a policy of not enforcing federal law on cannabis in the states where it was legalized. While the substance is still federally illegal, and federal agents could theoretically arrest users in legal states at any time, the Obama administration had admitted that they would be hands-off on this exercise of states’ rights.

While Trump has appeared to be rather indifferent (or rather, unclear and contradictory) as to whether or not cannabis should be legal, Jeff Sessions poses a clear threat to the idea of states’ rights to legalize it. Attorney General Sessions has the ability to revert the Cole and Odgen memos, two Justice Department policies that had caused a decrease in nonviolent drug-related prosecutions. If Sessions goes back on these policies and implements policies in the other direction, we could potentially see the federal government intervening in states where cannabis has already been made legal.

The implications of this are clear: Donald Trump, for all his talk about his supposed conservatism, would be appointing an Attorney General who would pursue policies in clear defiance of the 9th and 10th Amendments. We can also expect that a Trump administration would disregard the 4th Amendment, as he has previously defended NYC’s controversial stop-and-frisk rule, a policy that was primarily about fighting nonviolent drug crime and which was later ruled unconstitutional.

This issue isn’t a question of whether or not marijuana is a good thing. It’s not a question of whether you like it, or whether you think that pot smokers are annoying and lazy. This is a fundamental question of whether the federal government should disregard the will of the states, and by extension, the will of the people. The people of Massachusetts voted to legalize cannabis, and the Trump administration is threatening to take our state’s autonomy away by means of his overreaching federal government.

At the very least, it’ll be a bit more than a month before Trump is inaugurated, during which he can’t do anything about it. In this time, we must be thankful for the idea that America is supposed to be a pluralistic nation that allows for states to experiment with policies to find which ones work best. A Trump administration would certainly pose a major obstacle to the idea of America as a laboratory of democracy, but in this case, it’s ultimately up to the people to remind the government of its constitutional limitations.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]


8 Responses to “State’s rights versus Jeff Sessions”

  1. John Thomas on December 13th, 2016 6:18 am

    With all this hysteria, it’s good to consider the worst case scenario. – All Sessions could do is, at most, close down stores and large commercial grows. – The feds cannot force state and local police to go against state law and arrest consumers.

    In the eight legal states (and to varying degree in the 28 medical marijuana states) it will always be legal to possess, consume, grow and give away small amounts of marijuana. – This is the form of legalization achieved in Washington, D.C.

    So, at worst, we would all be on the D.C. model for a few years. – Then, with the sky falling nowhere, restrictions on sales would gradually fade.

    It’s also encouraging to note that one of Trump’s transition team members is Peter Thiel. He is a major backer of the Marley Natural line of marijuana products.

    Here’s a way we can all fight back against Trump’s marijuana-hating appointments. — Please sign and pass it on!

  2. David Hunt 1990 on December 13th, 2016 9:19 am

    Jeff Sessions fought the KKK and sought the death penalty for one of its members.

    Really, you need to do more research before you opine on that.

  3. Ed Cutting on December 13th, 2016 11:25 am

    Where do you think the 21-year-old drinking age came from?
    Back in 1983, Congress passed a law that said that any state that didn’t raise its drinking age to 21 would lose its Federal Highway Funds. Massachusetts and everyone else complied.
    What makes you think Congress won’t do the same thing again?
    If Sessions isn’t confirmed, he remains in the Senate where he would be free to shepherd such a law through, citing the carnage of stoned driving..
    And who says that the Commonwealth will obey its own laws? It routinely doesn’t….

  4. John Thomas on December 13th, 2016 3:04 pm

    @Ed Cutting – You can’t “cite the carnage of stoned driving,” if there isn’t any – and there isn’t.

    Marijuana is not alcohol. The preponderance of the research shows marijuana consumption is NOT a significant cause of auto accidents. In 2015, the Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk report, produced by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that while drunken driving dramatically increased the risk of getting into an accident, there was no evidence that using marijuana heightened that risk.

    In fact, after adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use, the report found that drivers who had recently consumed marijuana were no more likely to crash than drivers who were not intoxicated at all.

  5. Elizabethw on December 13th, 2016 4:23 pm

    “In this time, we must be thankful for the idea that America is supposed to be a pluralistic nation that allows for states to experiment with policies to find which ones work best. A Trump administration would certainly pose a major obstacle to the idea of America as a laboratory of democracy, but in this case, it’s ultimately up to the people to remind the government of its constitutional limitations.”

    Whose ideas? Yours? No source listed. Your stating your opinion of what america is supposed to be and point of
    state’s rights as if it is an authority.

    Assuming your ideology is liberal as the talking points are, it’s ironic, democrats and liberals spent 8 years antagonizing states, trying to make the federal government all powerful and have regularly ignored and undermined the policies and wishes that the majority of people in states enacted or wanted like a ban on same sex marriage and the presence of refugees among other things.

    It seems credibility and consistency is not a consideration, now that liberals are out of power they want to assert
    state’s rights and presume people will forget their prior intentions and actions on this matter.

  6. John Thomas on December 14th, 2016 5:37 am

    @Elizabethw – There are various, significant differences between those two examples, but the most important one is:

    Banning gay marriage restricts someone else’s freedom.

    Ending marijuana prohibition restores millions of people’s freedom.

    We are the “‘land of the free,” remember?

  7. Elizabethw on December 15th, 2016 2:36 pm

    To conflate gay marriage and legalized drug use as freedom is an opinion, an argument, not a fact. It could be argued these are moral issues that effect society. I did not take a side on them, my point is the left deliberately undermined States rights and the people’s majority will and therefore has no credibility to argue for state’s rights.

  8. David Hunt 1990 on December 16th, 2016 7:21 am

    @Elizabethtw: Part of the plan was to get ONE state to legalize gay marriage, then use the Constitution’s FULL FAITH AND CREDIT clause to force other states to enact it… yet they will fight tooth and nail against letting people with Concealed Carry from one state carry a concealed firearm in another.

    If it weren’t for double standards, liberals wouldn’t have any.

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