AG Nom Jeff Sessions Thought KKK Was Okay Until He Learned They Smoked Pot?

Last week, we posted about a petition launched by the Marijuana Majority calling on president-elect Donald Trump to respect cannabis laws in states such as Colorado, which has legalized limited pot sales for recreational purposes.

In an interview with Westword, Marijuana Majority chairman and founder Tom Angell also expressed concern about the marijuana views of the person whom Trump would choose to fill the position of attorney general in his administration. Among the names floated at the time were New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who'd vowed to crack down on Colorado's marijuana system during his own failed run for the presidency, and onetime New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, another well-known weed hater.

In the end, neither Christie nor Giuliani made the cut. Instead, Trump has nominated Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of his earliest supporters in the U.S. Senate and among those who stuck by him even after the release of an Access Hollywood recording in which the president-elect joked about groping women.

Sessions has plenty of political baggage, much of it owing to what NPR has described as his "history of racially provocative remarks" — one of which had to do with marijuana. After his 1986 nomination as a federal district judge by then-president Ronald Reagan, he was said to have maintained that he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan "were okay until I found out they smoked pot."

Although he later claimed to have been joking, Sessions apologized for this comment. But in recent years, he's repeatedly said he views cannabis to be a dangerous substance and has decried efforts to legalize it.

During confirmation hearings for the current attorney general, Loretta Lynch, Sessions grilled her about pot legalization and seemed reassured to hear that she wasn't in favor of it. He encouraged her to make her antipathy for legal weed plain, noting that "in the past, department officials have spoken out and kept bad decisions from being made." Here's a video excerpt from the exchange:

In other remarks on the Senate floor, Sessions has been even more outspoken about the alleged risks of cannabis legalization.

This video showcases Sessions describing progressive marijuana policies like the ones in Colorado as "a mistake. We've seen that experiment before. Lives are at stake here." Click to see more:

The Alabama senator also took part in a forum in which he expressed anger and frustration at the decision of the Obama administration not to enforce federal bans on marijuana in Colorado and other places that had legalized it. During the gathering, he was quoted as saying, "Good people don't smoke marijuana."

The following video delves further into this material.

Oh, yeah: Sessions once announced that he knew marijuana couldn't be safer than alcohol because "Lady Gaga says she was addicted to it."

These assertions suggest that Sessions may be just as problematic an AG choice as Christie or Giuliani when it comes to possible federal interference with Colorado's marijuana laws. But Angell, in statements shared with Westword via e-mail after news about the Trump nomination broke a short time ago, is trying not to hit the panic button.

"While the choice certainly isn't good news for marijuana reform, I'm still hopeful the new administration will realize that any crackdown against broadly popular laws in a growing number of states would create huge political problems they don't need and will use lots of political capital they'd be better off spending on issues the new president cares a lot more about," Angell writes.

He adds: "A clear majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, and supermajorities across party lines believe that states should be able to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference. The truth is, marijuana reform is much more popular with voters than most politicians are, and officials in the new administration would do well to take a careful look at the polling data on this issue before deciding what to do."

To reinforce these points, Angell assembled a graphic showing the results of numerous polls showing that the American public favors marijuana legalization.

Angell also points out that "during the campaign, the president-elect clearly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and he should keep his word — both because it’s the right thing to do and because a reversal would be a huge political misstep.”

Expect vigorous opposition to Sessions's nomination from the left on plenty of fronts — marijuana policy being just one of them.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts