Attorney General Sessions' Las Vegas Speech Ignores Nevada Pot-Sales 'Emergency'

Ray Stern
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Jeff Sessions missed major opportunities this week to rail against legal marijuana, giving marijuana-industry experts some much-craved hope that a crackdown is not imminent.

The cannabis-hating U.S. Attorney General delivered a speech at the Nevada U.S. Attorney's Office in Las Vegas on Wednesday about crime, drugs, and immigration, but failed to mention the state's newly launched recreational program.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Reno, and Laughlin, people continued to queue up in droves at the new adult-use marijuana retail stores that have proved more popular than expected. State residents and tourists are buying so much legal marijuana that Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval declared a state emergency, rolling out a new policy to avoid shortages by expanding the number of marijuana distributors.

On Tuesday, Sessions also did not mention legalized marijuana during a speech in Dallas about the DARE program and the drug abuse, saying only that he disagreed with people who claim "marijuana use can prevent addiction." His statements praising enforcement as a drug-prevention tool focused on the drugs that cause overdose deaths, like opiates and fentanyl, a synthetic opiate.

To many in the growing, multibillion-dollar, state-legal marijuana industry, the former Senator from Alabama — who once infamously declared that "good people don't smoke marijuana" — was a worrisome choice for the AG job following President Trump's election.

Sean Spicer, Trump's spokesman, ramped up that fear back in February by claiming there would be "greater enforcement" against recreational-marijuana programs.

So far, no crackdown has come.

Sessions is indeed working to derail the September renewal of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment (also known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment), which forbids the federal government from spending funds to interfere with state-legal marijuana programs. But that should be expected, according to one expert.

"He's trying to make sure the DOJ doesn't became a toothless tiger, and he doesn't want the DEA not to investigate certain crimes,"  Boston lawyer and marijuana-business adviser Robert Carp said. "He does not want to see his powers limited."

Still, the industry has been waiting to exhale ever since Sessions' appointment.

"Sessions has made a number of concerning comments in recent months, but we still have not seen any federal policy declaration," said Tom Angell, chairman and founder of Marijuana Majority, a national pro-cannabis group.

"Here's what we do know: The Obama-era enforcement policy, while still formally in place, is under review," he added. "The attorney general will receive task force recommendations this month and make a decision sometime thereafter. If he opts to undermine the president's clear campaign pledges to respect state marijuana laws, it'll spur widespread bipartisan pushback and spur political problems that the administration does not need."

Ryan Hurley, an Arizona attorney who advises medical-marijuana businesses, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Sessions' failure to mention legal marijuana while in Nevada this week.

"It does strike me — he's in the state with the second-largest [recreational] program in the nation — why wouldn't you say, 'Hey, this is not a good idea'?" he said.

The answer, Hurley, said, could be that the administration understands that states are starting to become dependent on the tax revenue — and maybe even understand that [legalization] is a better system. Certainly, if the federal government wanted to launch a crackdown on states like Nevada, it would be better to "nip it on the front end," and not after the program becomes established, bringing in millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs.

Sessions' office did not return a message on Thursday morning.