Pubdate: Fri, 30 Dec 2016
Source: Napa Valley Register (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Lee Enterprises
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Author: Thomas Elias


Thomas Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column, appearing
twice weekly in 93 newspapers around California, with circulation of over
2.2 million.

As a United States attorney in Alabama serving under President Ronald
Reagan in 1986, the 39-year-old Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was
charged with enforcing civil rights laws. But he said then that he didn't
have much of a problem with what the Ku Klux Klan stood for, musing that
he thought the KKK was "OK until I found out they smoked pot."

Sessions takes office as U.S. attorney general in a matter of weeks, at
the same time President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into the office he won
with far less than a plurality of popular votes last fall.

Because he has not changed his opinion of pot over 30 years, Trump's new
attorney general, recently a solidly anti-civil rights Republican senator,
could be headed for major confrontations with new California Attorney
General Xavier Becerra and the chief legal officers of seven other states
that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

How much antipathy for the weed does Sessions harbor? Now 70, he observed
in April that "Good people don't smoke marijuana" and that it is "a very
real danger" that is "not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized."
He has called pro-pot laws like last fall's California Proposition 64 a
"tragic mistake" and blasted outgoing President Obama's attorneys general,
Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, for announcing they would not prosecute
most marijuana offenses, and then making that their policy.

It's a policy that can, and very likely will, be overturned quite soon.

This makes it entirely possible that federal agents will go after pot
growers and dealers, even the fully permitted retail outlets that sport
big neon green cross signs in many parts of California.

That's because California is the fattest, most prominent target among the
eight states with fully legalized marijuana, which include Colorado,
Alaska and Washington, among others. California also provided Democrat
Hillary Clinton her entire 2.8 million popular vote margin in the fall
vote, and more.

Sessions' authority on pot is based on the constitutional principle that
federal laws always preempt those of individual states. So long as pot --
both for medical and recreational use -- remains verboten under federal
rules, arrests can happen here anytime the Trump administration likes.

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One thing that might make legalized pot easier for Sessions to go after is
the fact that of the eight fully-legal-cannabis states, only one -- Alaska
- -- voted for Trump. So Trump loses no critical support if he goes after
California's law and the new crop of businesses taking advantage of it.

Sessions could act by suing in federal court to have Proposition 64
invalidated. There is certainly plenty of precedent for this tactic. Most
recently, after the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 passed by an
even wider margin in 1994 than Proposition 64 did, federal judges
dispatched almost all its provisions as unconstitutional, including
sections banning the children of undocumented immigrants from public
schools, denying emergency medical care to them and more.

What worked for liberal lawyers in the late 1990s would most likely work
as well for conservative ones now, while marijuana remains a federal
Schedule 1 drug, right alongside heroin, ecstasy and LSD. By contrast, the
likes of morphine and methamphetamines are mere Schedule 2 villains,
judged by federal authorities to be one step less pernicious than pot.

A concerted federal campaign against cannabis would certainly get little
or no aid from most state or local police in California. It would make
terrible investments of the many millions of dollars spent over the last
year or so on land and infrastructure to grow and distribute legal pot.
And if he's resolute in defending Proposition 64 and any Californians
targeted by Sessions and his corps of U.S. attorneys for acting on it,
Becerra could become a hero to the 60 percent of Californians who backed
Prop. 64.

All this is safe to contemplate because there's absolutely no evidence
Trump would order Sessions to desist from prosecuting the pot
establishment here and in other legalized states.
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