The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is sending a clear signal to the administration of President Donald Trump following the latest negative words and deeds aimed at legal marijuana in Colorado and beyond by Justice Department officials Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. In the words of NORML policy director Justin Strekal, "Should the Department of Justice decide to throw out the Tenth Amendment and respect for states' rights as they govern their own intrastate commerce, they're going to have a fight on their hands."
Attorney General Sessions was supposed to speak at a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee yesterday, June 13, but that appearance didn't happen, because he was called before a different body, the Senate Intelligence Committee, to supposedly answer but mostly dodge questions about alleged collusion between the Russian government and assorted Trump forces related to the 2016 presidential election.
For that reason, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared in his place — and he responded to an inquiry about medical marijuana from Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski like so: "We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states. It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids.... I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA, and we follow the law and the science. And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I. And therefore we have this conflict."
The scheduling topic is a hot one: As we've reported, there are multiple bills before Congress that aim to move marijuana from Schedule I, a Drug Enforcement Administration designation that includes heroin and acknowledges no medical benefits, to Schedule II or Schedule III, or even to remove it from the DEA schedule entirely.
Strekal, who favors de-scheduling, is hardly shocked by Rosenstein's statements.
"Right now, we're hearing nothing that we haven't heard already coming out of the Justice Department," he says. "It is still along the lines of officials dancing around the idea of maintaining the existing status quo, where the federal government isn't interfering with legal state marijuana law. But the deputy attorney general doubled down on non-commitment. And this is coming just a couple of days before the president's commission on the opioid crisis is due to meet," on Friday, June 16.
"NORML members have been contacting the Office of National Drug Control Policy" about the commission's get-together, Strekal continues. "Thousands of them have been writing letters and making phone calls, saying medical marijuana has to be part of our national response to the catastrophic crisis of opioid addiction and the ravages it's wreaked on our citizens. There are real people who are dealing with this crisis. But in the meantime, Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein still want to play games, and want to continue this failed drug war."
During the 2016 campaign, Trump had positive things to say about medical marijuana even as he ripped recreational cannabis laws like those in Colorado. However, Strekal believes that with Trump so distracted by the scandals that have swamped his administration during its early days, that Sessions, a notable anti-pot zealot, is being allowed to push his agenda regarding marijuana virtually unchecked.
"It's just a continuation of Jeff Sessions's dedication — and by extension, Donald Trump's dedication — not to advance meaningful reform in marijuana policy," he allows. "And he's continuing to ignore all the medical journals and studies about marijuana out there. One of the largest divides I see is when we have people say, 'We don't have enough evidence about medicinal benefits. We don't have enough information. We need to study more.' But there are more than 25,000 articles on marijuana — and conversely, for Adderall, which is being prescribed to so many of our children, there are just over 200. When I learned that statistic, my jaw dropped over the disparity between education and policy."
Sessions, for his part, may not have been focusing on marijuana this week, but his opinions were heard loud and clear thanks to the release (by Marijuana Majority leader and frequent Westword interview subject Tom Angell) of a letter from the attorney general to congressional leaders that attacks a federal law preventing federal dollars from being used to fund a medical marijuana crackdown.
"They're continuing to leave breadcrumbs and build their case both in public and in private that it is nearly time to crack down on the existing developments of legal marijuana," Strekal believes. "We need to recognize that we have no legal protections from this administration — and if you have an administration that refuses to recognize a law authored by a co-equal branch of the government, you have a very dangerous situation."