WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Sessions indicated at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that as attorney general, he might break the federal government’s truce with states on marijuana.
During President Barack Obama’s administration, states have been allowed to “experiment” with legalizing pot, and the Justice Department, under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, has allowed many legal operations to continue without laying down the full weight of federal law against them.
But asked by Utah Sen. Mike Lee on Tuesday if the federal government would continue to look the other way while states enacted their own laws regarding marijuana, Sessions said he wouldn’t commit to not enforcing existing federal law.
“It’s not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws as effectively as we’re able,” said Sessions, adding that Congress was entitled to change federal law if it so desired.
Still, the Marijuana Policy Project, which aims to allow states to determine their own marijuana laws, was encouraged by Sessions’ comments.
“It is notable that Sen. Sessions chose not to commit to vigorously enforcing federal prohibition laws in states that have reformed their marijuana laws,” the group said in a statement. “He also recognized that enforcing federal marijuana laws would be dependent upon the availability of resources, the scarcity of which poses a problem. He was given the opportunity to take an extreme prohibitionist approach and he passed on it.”
The federal government calls pot a Schedule I narcotic — of no medical value and in the same class as heroin. But in recent years, several states and the nation’s capital have made pot a legal prescription drug or an outright legal recreational product on par with alcohol.
Sessions himself is no fan of marijuana, telling USA Today as recently as last April, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Sessions’ comments on Tuesday may have marked a break with President-elect Donald Trump. In an appearance on Fox News Tuesday, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cast Mr. Trump as deferential to states’ rights on pot and said he thinks Sessions is “well aware” his job would be to implement Mr. Trump’s agenda.