Sessions: More pot violence than ‘one would think’

Sessions doesn't think America a better place with 'more people smoking pot'

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, left, and pre-rolled joints (AP photos)
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, left, and pre-rolled joints (AP photos)

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department will try to adopt “responsible policies” for enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday, adding that he believes violence surrounds sales and use of the drug in the U.S.

In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said the department was reviewing an Obama administration Justice Department memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws.

“Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said.

The comments were in keeping with remarks last week from White House spokesman Sean Spicer, who said the Justice Department would step up enforcement of federal law against recreational marijuana.

Sessions stopped short of saying what he would do, but said he doesn’t think America will be a better place with “more people smoking pot.”

FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2012 file photo, Rachel Schaefer, of Denver, smokes marijuana on the official opening night of Club 64, a marijuana-specific social club, where a New Year's Eve party was held in Denver. Denver is starting work on becoming the first city in the nation to allow marijuana clubs and public pot use in places like restaurants, yoga studios and art galleries. Voters narrowly approved the "social use" measure last November. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
In this Dec. 31, 2012 file photo, Rachel Schaefer, of Denver, smokes marijuana on the official opening night of Club 64, a marijuana-specific social club.(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. 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.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Justice Department has several options available should it decide to enforce the law, including filing lawsuits on the grounds that state laws regulating pot are unconstitutional because they are pre-empted by federal law.

A 1936 poster from "Reefer Madness," a visual aid from the Portland Police Department and a man smoking a joint (KOIN)
A 1936 poster from “Reefer Madness,” a visual aid from the Portland Police Department and a man smoking a joint (KOIN)

Studies have found no correlation between legalization of marijuana and violent crime rates. But law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado say drug traffickers have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much higher.

Pot advocates say the officials have exaggerated the problem.

“Sessions’ latest comments describe a reality that only exists in the world of alternative facts. Marijuana legalization has not lead to increased crime or violence, but rather is associated with lowered youth use rates and access, increased tax revenue, and fewer arrests of otherwise law abiding American citizens. The truth is that legalization is working as voters have intended and that the new US Attorney General’s opinions are reckless, irresponsible, and outright false.”  — Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director

“You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” Sessions said.

Sessions said he met with Nebraska’s attorney general, who sued Colorado for allegedly not keeping marijuana within its borders. That lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but neighboring states continue to gripe that Colorado and other pot-legal states have not done enough to keep the drug from crossing their borders.

In a statement, Gov. Kate Brown said:

The Oregon recreational marijuana industry is well regulated and focused on ensuring safety and education.  In my meetings with administration officials over this past weekend in Washington DC, I was told over and over again they want to give more flexibility to the states. The recreational marijuana industry is a great opportunity to build a nascent industry that could create good-paying jobs across Oregon. We should be focused on growing our economy and Oregon is dependent on the flexibility to do so.

In Oregon alone, an economist says, that’s at least 12,500 jobs. In Oregon, Washington state and Colorado, marijuana tax revenues totaled $335 million last year.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates and licenses the state’s recreational marijuana industry, says it has nearly 13,000 applications for marijuana worker permits and over 2,100 marijuana license applications.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer released this statement:

“Jeff Sessions is completely out of step with the majority of Americans regarding marijuana, and he is making up ‘fake facts’ by suggesting that there has been an increase in violent crime in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or adult use. There is no evidence of an increase because Oregon or any other state has legalized some form of marijuana.

“We must not go back to the failed War on Drugs that would embolden cartels and really would increase violence. Sessions should be reminded that 71 percent of Americans think the government should not enforce federal laws against states that have legalized medical or adult use marijuana. He should focus his attention on the opioid crisis and the pill pushers who really are destroying lives and communities. In fact, where medical marijuana is available, fewer pills are actually prescribed.

“The federal government should just stay out of the way and let states and their voters determine what they want to do. So far, it’s working.”

KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.