Attorney General Jeff Sessions is provoking more anger and fear from the marijuana industry after he compared the substance to heroin Wednesday, saying it will “destroy your life.”
Sessions outlined his strategy to combat surges in violent crimes across the country that he claims are fueled by the illicit drug trade. The broad strokes of the attorney general’s plan are to tighten the southern border with bolstered security, increase enforcement of federal drug laws and institute harsher sentences rather than treatment programs for offenders. As Sessions laid out the reality of violence facing communities across the country, he compared weed to heroin, sparking outrage from both activists and medical researchers, reports The Washington Post.
Roughly 20 percent of Americans have access to marijuana due to state legalization laws, efforts which local officials throughout the country continue to push forward. Sessions, a stanch opponent of legalization, continues to rail against marijuana in speeches, remarking in February that “we’re seeing real violence around” weed in the U.S.
“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” Sessions said in remarks Wednesday. “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.”
Sessions ripped into a study showing marijuana can help those suffering from opioid addiction Feb. 28, calling the research a “desperate” move to normalize weed. The research released in February suggests patients suffering from chronic pain and mental health conditions will choose marijuana over their addictive prescription drugs when given a choice by their doctor.
While medical researchers do not claim pot will “solve” the opioid epidemic, evidence is growing that marijuana can be an effective alternative to the painkillers that often lead to heroin abuse. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria, found 63 percent of patients chose marijuana due to reduced side effects and because it is far less addictive than their prescription medication. Patients also said they were better able to manage their symptoms by using weed.
Ten Democrats and a Republican recently sent a letter to Sessions imploring him to back off threats to crackdown on state marijuana laws and to leave the Cole Memorandum in place.
Sessions will review and potentially roll back aspects of the Cole memo, a set of guidelines established in 2013 that direct the Department of Justice to focus marijuana enforcement efforts on violent crimes and distribution in states without legalization laws.
While President Donald Trump promised to respect state laws on marijuana during the election, rhetoric from Press Secretary Sean Spicer continues to spark anxiety within the industry. Spicer fielded questions on Trump’s stance on marijuana legalization during a press conference Feb. 23, saying the DOJ is likely going to increase enforcement efforts of federal law.
If Sessions and the Trump administration move to interfere with state pot laws, it could cost the marijuana industry hundreds of thousands of jobs. A report released in February by New Frontier Data projects that an unimpeded marijuana market will create more than 250,000 jobs by 2020. The booming projections for growth stand in stark contrast to manufacturing jobs, which are expected to crater by more than 800,000 by 2024.
The latest polling from Quinnipiac shows 59 percent of voters support federal marijuana legalization.
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