As Maine Implements Pot Law, AG Sessions 'Dubious' About State Legalization Efforts

Feb 28, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he's dubious about state-led efforts to legalize marijuana.

Speaking at the National Association of Attorneys General meeting in Washington Tuesday, Sessions said he learned from experience that crime follows drugs.

"States can pass whatever laws they choose, but I'm not sure we're going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store," Sessions said.

Sessions' comments about marijuana legalization are his first public remarks since White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the Trump administration will crack down on enforcing a federal prohibition on recreational marijuana.

Maine is one of eight states that has legalized recreational marijuana. Twenty-six states have some legalized some form of the drug for medicinal purposes.

"I do believe you will see greater  enforcement of it," Spicer said.

Neither Sessions nor Spicer have addressed whether federal law enforcement agencies would attempt to disrupt marijuana operations in the states that have legalized the drug. However, the Trump administration's stance could pose problems for an industry that had slowly emerged from its black-market past as states began to end prohibition.

The Trump administration's stance also appears to reverse the approach of the Obama administration, which had adopted a policy of not interfering in states where nonmedical use of marijuana is allowed.

Spicer did make a distinction between medical marijuana and recreational use, saying the Trump administration would not disrupt medicinal marijuana use.

"The president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing, especially, terminal diseases,” he said, “and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them."

Nonetheless, Spicer's remarks have raised concerns in Maine and other states about how the Trump administration will deal with states that have legalized marijuana. Recreational use and cultivation of marijuana became legal here Jan. 30.

The Maine Legislature voted to delay the commercial sale of marijuana until next year. A working group meets Tuesday to discuss implementing the legalization law.

Spicer and Sessions appeared to link the opioid crisis to marijuana.

"When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country,” Spicer said, “the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There’s a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

Nearly all research shows that the opioid crisis and spike in heroin use is tied to the over-prescribing and use of prescription opioids.

Some legalization advocates have proposed using medical marijuana to combat the opioid addiction. A bill to do just that failed in the Maine Legislature last year.

Sessions mocked the idea during his remarks to state attorneys general on Tuesday. 

"Give me a break," he said. "I mean, you know, this is the kind of argument that's been made out there. It's almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana, or even its benefits. I doubt it's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong."