A year ago, when president-elect Donald Trump announced Senator Jeff Sessions would be his attorney general, advocates for marijuana law reform were suddenly seized with panic. The longtime Alabama senator, they knew, had once joked that he considered the Klan to be OK guys until he found out they smoked pot. Only they weren’t quite sure he was kidding.
Sessions’ appearance at his confirmation hearing in early January did little to allay those fears. During testimony best remembered for the attorney general’s commitment to recuse himself from any investigation related to the 2016 election, the nominee was asked about medical marijuana by Vermont Senator Pat Leahy: “Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people who are using marijuana in accordance with their state laws, even though it might violate federal laws?”
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“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy,” Sessions replied, suppressing a slight smirk. That double negative tightened the knot in every drug policy reformer’s gut. Exactly how vulnerable were the nascent marijuana industries in the 29 states where it was now legal? Would Sessions, who rarely misses an opportunity to bemoan the scourge of marijuana, sweep aside the paper-thin order imposed by the Obama administration that had stayed the enforcement hand of the Department of Justice? Would SWAT teams arrest wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients, raid marijuana dispensaries and shut down the high-tech growhouses that supplied them?
The dreaded crackdown never materialized. Sessions, perhaps preoccupied with other priorities like keeping