Sessions: US Will Enforce Federal Drug Laws Despite Gardner-Trump Marijuana Deal

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Photo: AG Jeff Sessions (AP Photo)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May 2018.

Earlier this spring, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said President Trump promised to support legislation that would protect Colorado’s marijuana industry. That pledge was a salve to the industry after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a memo in January that had kept federal law enforcement from interfering in states like Colorado.

Now, Sessions tells Colorado Matters that, despite the apparent Gardner-Trump deal, he was never told by the president to back off.

"We respect Colorado and its laws like we do other states. And we enforce federal law around the country,” said Sessions, who is Denver and scheduled to speak Friday at the Western Conservative Summit. “We were not ordered to do anything other than the policies that we intend to carry out nationally."

On Thursday, Gardner and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would make pot sales legal under federal law. Friday morning, President Trump said he would "probably end up supporting that."

Sessions said he’ll keep an eye on Congress’ actions. But in the meantime, he intends to enforce current statutes.

“It remains clear that the Cole Memo has been withdrawn,” Sessions said. “And the impact of that is to essentially make clear that we are not guaranteeing, and cannot guarantee, persons who use or distribute marijuana are protected from federal prosecution. I don't think that's appropriate for me to, in effect, violate or neuter federal marijuana law.”

Interview Highlights

On the uses of marijuana:

“I don't think the substance, personally, is a good, healthy thing. … When we talk about marijuana, we need to make clear that whether we legalize it or not, that it is not a good thing to consume. I think there's universal belief that it's particularly dangerous. There may be some medical uses for it in proper doses. But, fundamentally, it's just not a healthy thing. And particularly not healthy for young people. It does impact their developing brains and can be a permanent damage to those brains.”

On the marijuana industry:

"I can't give them immunity. I can't guarantee that they are free from any consequences from an act that is contrary to United States law. We've got priorities. U.S. Attorneys around the country have heavy demands on them. And the federal government has never prosecuted on any kind of regular basis, small amounts of marijuana. It's just, our priorities are smuggling rings, and more deadly drugs normally."

On whether marijuana can help people addicted to opioids:

"That argument is floated out there. I've not seen scientific results that would back that up. It continues to be said, but we continue to see tremendous amounts of death from these opioids. There's no doubt about it. But it is true that many people addicted to opioids were heavy marijuana users before they became addicted.”

On his relationship with President Trump, who has soured on Sessions:

"The good thing about my relationship with the president is the day-to-day work we do, we are in agreement that we need to end the illegality of our immigration system, we need to bring down the opioid deaths that we've never seen before — 65,000 people dying last year from overdoses — this is something we've never ever seen before. He's declared it a national health crisis, which I agree [with]. He's appointing great judges and we're please to support him in that. So on the great issues of our day it's a great pleasure for me to be able to support the president's agenda."

On why the Department of Justice began separating immigrant parents and children:

“The word has gotten out that if you come to the United States border and enter unlawfully with a child, you have a very high chance of nothing happening to you. …

If you don't prosecute the adults that violate the law, then you are saying 'we have open borders in this country for anyone who brings a child with them to the United States.' And that cannot be. We have to be serious about this. Open borders is a radical policy. And the flow of immigrants into our country with children has increased dramatically. And we have to stop allowing them to enter with no consequence."