Former Attorney General Eric Holder — President Obama's top law enforcer from 2009-2015 — just bashed current AG Jeff Sessions for his absurd stance on marijuana.
"Sessions' almost obsession with marijuana I think is the thing that's put the Justice Department in this strange place," Holder said yesterday during an event at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. While overseeing the Department of Justice, Holder left his mark on cannabis culture in 2013 when the DOJ released a memorandum instructing federal prosecutors not to interfere with state-legalized marijuana industries so long as they remained compliant with local laws.
That meant recreational as well as medical cannabis operations were essentially safe from DEA raids and other forms of federal prosecution if they abided by state regulations. The directive, known as the 'Cole Memo,' was a win for states' rights and undoubtedly encouraged jurisdictions like Oregon, Massachusetts and California to repeal cannabis prohibition in the following years.
Now Sessions is trying to reverse that progress and take America back to the heyday of pot prohibition. Since taking office earlier this year, Sessions has hinted at enforcing federal prohibition in states that have legalized recreational use. He's also asked Congress to scrap a rider in the federal budget that prevents the DEA from prosecuting dispensaries, growers and everyone else involved in state-legalized medical marijuana industries — even patients.
And despite growing evidence that cannabis has medicinal value and that marijuana is not a 'gateway' to abusing harder drugs, Sessions still sees the issue through a 'Reefer Madness' mindset. In fact, he's proud of his out-dated opinions.
"I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use," Sessions said last March. "But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life."
So never mind the fact that cannabis can prevent people with severe epilepsy from suffering hundreds of debilitating seizures every day. And that it helps cancer patients recover from gruelling treatments by restoring their appetites. And that it helps wean people off opioid addiction, which killed over 33,000 Americans in 2015 alone. Forget all that because marijuana destroys lives, according to Sessions. Even though the DEA recognizes that nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose.
So Holder was right to criticize Sessions, but his remarks didn't go over well with activists in the audience who saw the former attorney general as part of the problem, not the solution during his time in the Obama administration. While Holder offered state-legalized marijuana industries some breathing room, he could've done much more to protect them. As longtime advocate Tom Angell noted, "Eric Holder could have rescheduled marijuana while in office," which would have opened the door to recognizing cannabis as medicine.
But he didn't take that step or any others to protect the industry beyond a memo that can be easily discarded and a rider that has to be renewed with every federal budget. As a result, the small gains made at the federal level are now in danger of being rolled back, and medical marijuana patients have to look over their shoulders every time the budget's up for debate. So while the former AG's cannabis stance was and continues to be much more sensible than his successor's, Holder's inaction on the issue has nonetheless empowered Sessions to turn his anti-marijuana obsession into policy.