After voters approved eight state marijuana ballot initiatives this month, more than half the states now permit the drug to be used for medical purposes, and eight now allow it for recreation. Federal law continues to ban the substance nationwide, and the choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as attorney general could bring the marijuana legalization movement to a screeching halt, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The Sessions choice may be a signal that conservative social values could now take precedence over states rights, especially because recreational pot dispensaries are in mostly “blue” states. Pro-marijuana state laws have blossomed under a lax federal enforcement policy. “We all wondered whether the Trump presidency would be ‘states rights’ or ‘law and order’ when it comes to drugs,” says Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “The Sessions pick makes many of us think it will be the latter.” Ethan Nadelmann of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance calls Sessions a “drug war dinosaur.”
The Monitor discusses three options for Sessions. One is to retain the current federal policy of focusing federal resources on addressing big-picture problems, without getting caught up prosecuting pot possession in states with regulatory and enforcement systems of their own. Even without going after individual prosecutions, another option is that Sessions could send a letter to governors in states that have legalized marijuana to warn them that the licenses they issued to cannabis companies violate federal law and should be revoked to bring their states into compliance within 90 days. A more moderate agenda, suggests drug policy analyst Jonathan Caulkins, is that the Trump administration could announce national standards defining best practices for the marijuana industry, and insist that the companies comply to avoid enforcement under existing federal law.