Pubdate: Mon, 09 Jan 2017
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2017 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Rob Hotakainen, Hannah Allam


Backers of marijuana legalization on Monday stepped up their pressure on
the U.S. Senate to block the confirmation of Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff
Sessions as the next attorney general.

Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalization, angered proponents in April
when he called pot "dangerous" and said that "good people don't smoke

Marijuana backers want the issue aired Tuesday when the Senate Judiciary
Committee begins Sessions' confirmation hearing.

"It's a national thing: This hearing is make or break for the marijuana
folks," said Adam Eidinger, who heads a pro-legalization group in
Washington, D.C., called DCMJ.

The hearing comes amid an explosion of support for legal marijuana in the
past year, with nearly a quarter of all Americans now living in states
that allow use of the drug for recreation.

4:20 a.m. The time that supporters of marijuana legalization plan to begin
lining up Tuesday for the confirmation hearing of Alabama Republican Sen.
Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general.

Marijuana won big in the Nov. 8 election, with voters passing ballot
measures to ease marijuana restrictions in eight of nine states, including

As a result, eight states now have approved recreational marijuana, led by
Washington and Colorado, where legalization plans first passed in 2012.
Twenty-eight states allow the drug to be used as medicine.

Marijuana backers are confident that more states will follow suit, with
the most recent Gallup poll showing a record high 60 percent backing

As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump said he would leave the
question of legalization to the states, following the lead of President
Barack Obama.

But Trump's selection of Sessions has many marijuana advocates worried,
given the senator's long history of opposition to any form of

In a speech on the Senate floor last year, Sessions criticized Obama as
not tough enough on marijuana, saying the U.S. could be at the beginning
of "another surge in drug use like we saw in the '60s and '70s."

"You have to have leadership from Washington," Sessions said. "You can't
have the president of the United States of America talking about marijuana
like it is no different than taking a drink. . . . It is different. And
you are sending a message to young people that there is no danger in this
process. It is false that marijuana use doesn't lead people to more drug
use. It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it
legal. I think we need to be careful about this."

Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, said Sessions' views "are out of step with
mainstream America" and in conflict with many state laws.

"We must demand that senators on the Judiciary Committee ask this nominee
whether he intends to respect the will of the voters in these states and
whether he truly believes that no 'good people' have ever smoked pot," he
said. "If he truly believes such outdated 'Reefer Madness' rhetoric, then
he should not be the next attorney general."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws called Monday
"a day of action," encouraging its backers to begin "flooding their
senators' phone lines" to demand a "no" vote on Sessions unless he agreed
to respect state laws that allow for the sale and use of marijuana.

Eidinger said Sessions would be getting "a crash course in civil
disobedience this month." He said he and other legalization backers
planned to line up at 4:20 a.m. (420 is code for marijuana) to reserve
seats for the Judiciary Committee hearing.

"We're going to be the first people in. We're going to be front and
center," Eidinger said. "We want the senators to see us sitting there,
wearing red shirts that say, 'Great Americans Use Cannabis.' And we want
the senators to ask him: 'What do you mean? You say good Americans don't
use cannabis?' We want the senators to do their jobs."

Eidinger's group is making plans to hand out 4,200 joints at Trump's
inauguration on Jan. 20 with hopes of pressuring the new administration to
back legalization.

While no one's certain exactly what Sessions would do as attorney general,
his nomination is regarded as good news for opponents of legalization.

When Trump nominated Sessions shortly after the election, Kevin Sabet,
president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana,
said that "things are about to get interesting."

"Well, let's just say that if I had marijuana stocks right now, I'd be
shorting them," Sabet said.

A federal crackdown is likely to increase tensions between the federal
government and states where marijuana sales have become a dependable
source of tax revenue, according to lawyers contemplating the upcoming
transition in a webinar Monday sponsored by the law firm of Dorsey &
Whitney. Sessions could impose a range of pressures, from tighter banking
regulations to raids on businesses.

"Not necessarily storefronts selling weed legally, but legal growers,
licensed and inspected by the state, potentially run by government
entities essentially operating in violation of federal law," said B. Todd
Jones, the National Football League's senior vice president and special
counsel for conduct. "Are you going to have DEA raids? Conflict between
state and federal governments?"
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