The Trump administration ratcheted up its attacks on legal weed with a series of feverish — and largely unsubstantiated — remarks on marijuana made by the nation’s new top cop.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the word “violence” repeatedly on Monday as he rattled off the purported perils of marijuana use, relying on little more than unnamed sources and his own gut feelings to bolster the characterizations. But the former prosecutor and Republican senator used these claims to hammer efforts by states to legalize pot and double down on the White House’s recent vow to crack down on legal marijuana sales.
“Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions told reporters at the Department of Justice. “States, they can pass the laws they choose,” he added. “I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
Sessions did not mention any of these supposed experts by name, though he said he had met earlier that day with Nebraska’s attorney general, who unsuccessfully sued Colorado, a legal weed state, for allegedly not keeping marijuana within its borders. Nor did Sessions cite any statistics to back up the claim.
He’d be hard pressed to do so, since studies have not found a correlation between marijuana legalization and an increase in violent crime rates. In Washington state, which legalized recreational weed in 2012, violent crime rates reportedly dropped by 10 percent between 2011 to 2014. A major academic study in 2014 of 11 states that legalized medical marijuana from 1990 to 2006 found no increase in the seven major categories of violent crime.
But a few politicians and law enforcement in states with legal weed, such as Colorado, continue to blame marijuana for murders, teen drug abuse, and traffic deaths — claims that critics, including the Denver Police Department, hotly contest.
Regardless, Sessions also drew on his own personal views of marijuana to make his case against the expanded use of the drug by states. “I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” he said. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”
While speaking about allegations of interstate drug trafficking, Sessions managed to tie marijuana to violence one last time. “You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt,” he said. “The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that.”
While the attorney general stopped short of offering specifics on how his Justice department might go about enforcing federal laws against marijuana, his comments echo the ones made by White House spokesman Sean Spicer last week. Spicer said that states with legal recreational marijuana could expect to see greater federal enforcement. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.
A staunch conservative from the deep South, Sessions has remained a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization for much of his public life. At times, he has almost seemed to revel in the role. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” said the 70-year-old during a now-infamous Senate hearing last April. “We need grown ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger.”