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Is Jeff Sessions Going After Medical Marijuana Use in States Where It’s Legal?

Jeff Sessions wants to take away medical cannabis. Veterans and families whose children have been saved by it are building an opposition.
Jeff Sessions, medical marijuana, marijuana, marijuana department of justice, trump administration marijuana, what is jeff sessions' stance on marijuana

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department November 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Sessions announced the Justice Department will fund more than $12 million in grants to assist law enforcement agencies and to establish a new DEA field division in the Appalachian Mountain region to combat the opioid crisis. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

During a November 28 press conference, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested that the Department of Justice is planning to crack down on recreational marijuana, even in states that have legalized it. Now proponents of medical cannabis fear that this crackdown could also extend to medical cannabis, now legal in 29 US states.

On December 8, 2017, Congressional Republicans narrowly avoided a government shutdown with a deal that would fund the government by another two weeks. That means an amendment within the bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Act (also known as Rohrabacher-Blumenauer) will also be extended two weeks. That law, made up of just 85 words, blocks the Department of Justice from using any money to prosecute medical marijuana patients in states where it’s legal. If the law is not upheld, patients who are currently able to access legal, cannabis-based treatments may find themselves on the wrong end of the law, or unable to access their formerly legal medicine.

The next step is for Congress to approve a full budget for 2018. Two versions have already been written and passed, one by the House and one by the Senate. The Senate version includes the language of the Rohrabacher-Farr Act, which means patients would continue to have access to medicinal cannabis in states where it is legal. The House version vehemently does not, because of another Sessions, Pete (no relation to Jeff), who chairs the House Rules Committee. Pete Sessions vehemently opposes protections for medicinal cannabis, and refused to let the amendment pass out of his committee. Now, the two versions of the budget must go through a reconciliation process in which they devise a final version. It remains to be seen whether that final version will include the language of the Rohrabacher-Farr Act, but with two Sessions against it, patients who rely on medicinal marijuana have reason to worry.

Jeff Sessions has asked Congress to oppose protections for legal marijuana and allow him to prosecute medical marijuana. “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” said Sessions. The attorney general is a staunch opponent of both recreational and medical cannabis use, and has called it as “bad as heroin.”  He also once said the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” 

In a letter to congressional leaders, Sessions requested an end to the medical cannabis protections. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives,” he said.

Two congressmen behind the original provision for medical cannabis, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, have sent a letter co-signed by 64 of their peers to House and Senate leadership, urging them to extend the provision that “has successfully protected patients, providers, and businesses against federal prosecution, so long as they act within the confines of their state’s medical marijuana laws.”

Meanwhile, medical cannabis is increasingly accepted by the American public. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 94 percent of Americans are in favor of medical marijuana if a patient’s doctor prescribes it.

Much of this favor comes from an unlikely source: mothers. Some of the most persistent voices in global efforts to legalize medicinal cannabis are the parents of children with drug-resistant forms of diseases. In particular, Dravet syndrome, a rare and deadly form of epilepsy that causes children to have chronic seizures, leading to brain damage and death, is being treated in legal states with cannabis-oil derivatives. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine of 120 children with Dravet syndrome found that half of the patients treated with medicinal cannabis experienced a marked decrease in the number of seizures they experienced, and 5 percent of the patients in the study stopped having seizures entirely.

One of the study authors, University of Melbourne Chair of Pediatric Neurology and Australian Health Director of Pediatrics, Ingrid Scheffer, told a reporter in 2016 she would not recommend cannabis for epilepsy treatments because of its unproven benefits and untested side-effects. Now she has changed her mind.

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