Attorney General Jeff Sessions petitioned lawmakers to scale back legal protections for medical marijuana in May, according to a letter leaked Tuesday.
In the letter sent to Congress, Sessions asked that they dismantle rules that bar the Department of Justice (DOJ) from getting involved in medical marijuana issues at the state level. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which passed in 2014, prevents the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute individuals in states with medical legalization, reports The Washington Post.
Sessions argues that these protections undermine the DOJ’s ability to combat the illegal drug trade.
“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,” Sessions says in the letter, according to WaPo. “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.”
Sessions cites the current drug epidemic involving opioids as reason to remove the restrictions placed on the Justice Department. Federal officials estimate that drug overdoses killed more than 60,000 Americans in 2016. Recent research, however, suggests that legal marijuana is helping reduce abuse rates of prescription drugs.
A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in March found that in states with legal weed, hospital visits for complications from prescription painkillers are dropping. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.
Emergency room visits for opioid overdoses are on average 13 percent lower than states without medical marijuana programs.
The letter, obtained by Tom Angell of Massroots.com, is reviving fears that the Trump Administration plans to crack down on state laws concerning marijuana legalization. Sessions, a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization, appeared to quell those fears during an April meeting with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper where he signaled he would respect state laws.
“Mr. Sessions stands athwart an overwhelming majority of Americans and even, sadly, against veterans and other suffering Americans who we now know conclusively are helped dramatically by medical marijuana,” Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an author of the state marijuana protections, said in a statement to WaPo.
Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.
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