Concerns & Controversies: What Pro-Marijuana Activists Want From Our Next Attorney General

Thanks to President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of a strongly stated anti-marijuana lawmaker for U.S. Attorney General, the future of legalized marijuana is in a haze. 

In an April 2016 Senate hearing, Alabama Republican and attorney general nominee Senator Jeff Sessions argued that leaders in government and lawmakers needed to foster "knowledge that this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it is not something to laugh about...and to send that message with clarity that good people don't smoke marijuana."

This view drastically differs from one put forth by President Obama, who told Rolling Stone his opinion that marijuana should be treated as a public health issue, similar to tobacco or alcohol, and called the growing blend of state laws "untenable" from a federal perspective. According to President Obama, there's much inconsistency across state borders, and it should be up to the states to decide, develop and implement their own laws as they pertain to legalization.

What Does an Attorney General Do?
While the duties of an attorney general will vary from one jurisdiction to the other as a result of constitutional and statutory rulings, typical powers of an attorney general include:
- Operate victim compensation programs
- Represent the public's interest in solicitations and charitable trust
- Institute civil suits on behalf of the state
- Handle serious statewide criminal prosecutions and criminal appeals
- Represent the state and its agencies before federal and state courts
- Enforce state and environmental laws
- Propose legislation
- Act as a public advocate in areas such as utility and antitrust regulation, consumer protections and child support enforcement
- Issue formal opinions to state agencies

Attorney generals act as chief legal officers of their states, territories and commonwealths within the United States, serving as counselors to their state agencies and legislatures while also acting as the "People's Lawyer" for all U.S. citizens. In the federal government, the Attorney General is a member of the Cabinet as well as the head of the Department of Justice -- the top lawyer and law enforcement officer for the government.

What Marijuana Advocates Want From An Attorney General:
It goes without saying that successfully holding the position of attorney general is no easy task, particularly when faced with controversial issues such as the legalization of marijuana. However, there are a number of responsibilities and actions that pro-marijuana activists would like to see handled by the next Attorney General, whether it is Senator Sessions or another yet-to-be-named nominee. A respected federal attorney general should:
- Understand his or her position with respect to both the US Constitution and the current laws within the United States as they relate to the people, the people's interests and protection of the public.
- Listen to the public to determine the values, interests and goals of their communities.
- Enforce current state laws and respect changes should they arise following public voting. Reneging or retracting after the public has voted or laws are implemented is not upholding to the position.
- Respect and refrain from interfering with the states' decisions regarding legal cannabis programs and laws.
- Refrain from making jokes during public statements or within official documents once in position and continuing to act as a government official for the people.
- Recognize that he or she alone may benefit by becoming more educated about the advantages and disadvantages as well as the uses and overuses of any drug.
- Be approachable, not feared.
- Continue to ensure that the states' rights and voter choices are respected.
- Consider the "bigger picture" and the benefits of shifting cannabis programs and laws from a criminal market to a regulated and tax-paying, consumer-knowledgeable business.
- Take a pragmatic, sensible and down-to-earth approach to the position instead of a personal or theoretical approach.
- Respect the public and the public's interest for change in laws pertaining to legalizing marijuana. This includes setting aside personal opinion and paying attention to the growing scientific studies and knowledge-base that applies to medical marijuana use and laws thereof as well as studies and statistics that help define and set proper and effective controls in place for recreational use.
- Avoid moving backwards in actions or thoughts. Reform implies forward-thinking progression, not undoing all that has been accomplished thus far.
- Act fairly for the people, act evenly for the people and include no personal-bias in judgement.
- Understand the difference between "representing the state" or "acting on behalf of the state" and "deciding what the state needs" on his individual-own.
- Advocate for and represent the people as a whole and for the greater good.

While no single nominee will be able to satisfy every concern of every U.S. citizen, these duties and responsibilities are typically deemed most important by those who place their trust in our government and representation.

Keeping a Wary Eye on U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions
Sen. Jeff Sessions has long condemned use of cannabis, which has been legalized for recreational use in the District of Columbia and in eight U.S. states but remains banned by federal law. He once notoriously remarked that the Ku Klux Klan "was okay until I found out they smoked pot." Sessions has continued to oppose attempts to reduce drug sentences and legalize marijuana, and he is a staunch proponent of the long-discredited "gateway theory."

By stating, "Good people do not use marijuana," Sessions arguably defamed countless people -- individuals who are "good people" and whom, by the millions, have agreed to responsibly consume marijuana in America. Thousands of citizens with medical complications and health issues view Sessions' public sentiment as demeaning, insulting and arrogant.

However, according to industry analysts, it's unlikely Trump will make drastic changes to federal marijuana enforcement, based on the economic impact the industry has as well as the repeated preferences demonstrated by voters. Still, there's also a certain degree of uncertainty circling the issue, given Trump's inclination for significantly rolling back campaign promises or for changing his mind without warning.

New Frontier's executive vice president for industry analytics says, "You had Donald Trump running on a slogan of 'Make America Great Again,' bringing back jobs and economic opportunities, and as one of its first acts, (the Trump administration) tries to dismantle one of the fastest growing economic opportunities in the country?" He continues, "I think they're going to be walking gingerly here. The likelihood of federal agents effectively shutting down the adult use our humble opinion, is unlikely."

However, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Sessions will possess the power to pull the plug on decades of hard-fought gains, challenging the adult-use legalization laws approved in eight states and the medical marijuana programs now operating in 29 states.

Looking to the Future of Our Country
Although marijuana opponents are energized by Sessions' nomination, believing that the federal government could simply reverse the country's trend toward legalization, yet advocates for legal marijuana are hopeful that Trump's views, which have so far supported states' rights to establish and maintain their own policies, will carry more weight than Sessions' views.

Activists are demanding that Senators ask Sessions as well as other potential candidates for this position, whether they intend to respect the will of the voters in states in which marijuana is legal, and whether Sessions truly believes that no "good people" have ever smoked marijuana.

According to Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, "We would expect appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president to stick to the president's position on this subject. It would certainly be controversial if Sen. Sessions completely defied the president who appointed him."

To show their support of the legalization of marijuana, thousands of pro-marijuana activists plan to light 4,200 joints during President-elect Donald Trump's presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017 in what they maintain is a call for nationalization of cannabis. However, many supporters fear a reversal of recent strides the country has made should his attorney general nominee be appointed the position.
  • What Does an Attorney General Do?
  • What Marijuana Advocates Want From An Attorney General
  • Keeping a Wary Eye on U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions
  • Looking to the Future of Our Country