Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ views on cannabis became more evident than ever last week when he made public his decision to repeal the Cole Memo, an Obama-era memorandum that has essentially protected state-legal cannabis businesses from federal prosecution.
While this move didn't surprise anyone, the following information may come as a shock: Sessions’ position on marijuana might not even be representative of his home state, Alabama, often considered a conservative, deep-South red state.
Among people in 21 urban and non-urban counties surrounding Birmingham and analyzed by the Green Market Report, 60.2 percent of people support the legalization of marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes, according to a new study conducted by Consumer Research Around Cannabis.
Even more interestingly, among the Birmingham-area people who self-identified as “conservatives” in the poll, 55.3 percent said they support cannabis legalization for medical and/or recreational use. While surprising, this figure makes sense in the context of Gallup’s latest poll, which revealed that 51 percent of Republicans across the U.S. supported full legalization of weed.
To make things even worse for Sessions, only 13.9 percent of the Birmingham respondents were decisively opposed to marijuana legalization. “Not even his own state supports him. If Jeff Sessions continues in this position, he can really damage the Republican agenda,” said Cynthia Salarizadeh, the CEO of the cannabis-focused PR firm Salar Media Group.
Poll Finds Public Support
Beyond Sessions’ home state, the American people overwhelmingly support cannabis legalization and states’ rights — two things the Cole Memo repeal clearly goes against. The Gallup poll mentioned above revealed that a whopping 64 percent of people in the U.S. believe pot should be made legal, while another survey from 2016 concluded that a majority of U.S. citizens (55 percent) defend states’ rights and “favor concentration of power at state level,” versus the federal level, which got a scant 37-percent backing.
Jeffrey Stein, Consumer Research Around Cannabis' vice president, said his firm is only reporting data, not taking a political position.
“That said, President Trump has been on record in past years saying he was for the legalization of medical cannabis and saying he’s for states’ rights and for states making their own decisions when it comes to legalizing cannabis,” he said. “So, it would seem that our attorney general is at odds with his boss and certainly taking his own personal position over that of the administration and of the majority of the American people.
“As a public servant, Jeff Sessions’ job is to do the people’s bidding,” Stein said. "A large portion of the American people support states’ rights, and many conservative states have already allowed medical marijuana to be legal for many, many reasons.”
Reactions And Overreactions
Following Sessions’ announcement last week, Bradley Blommer of Green Light Law Group said the decision was “both irrational and against the wishes of a majority of the American people,” while Salar Media Group's Salarizadeh defined it as “outdated and not supported by his own party.
“With the 2018 election coming up and Republicans sitting in a precarious position, considering that Democrats and Independents are going to be vying for those seats, they could lose the House if an issue like this is not handled correctly,” Salarizadeh said.
“If Republicans want to keep seats, they will have to oppose Jeff Sessions, because the people have spoken and cannabis is more popular than any one party or any one issue at this time.”
In the view of Amanda Ostrowitz, founder and CEO of cannabis compliance company CannaRegs, the public overreacted somewhat to the Cole Memo announcement.
"Sessions has not done anything all that dramatic here. Everybody lost a day last week in panic, trying to figure out what all this meant, but all Sessions did was rescind a memo that only laid out some enforcement guidelines,” she said.
The Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment is still in place, Ostrowitz said. So the Cole Memo’s repeal means that each federal prosecutor will have the ability to decide how to enforce the law — which is not the same as an open “war on cannabis.” And many of those prosecutors have already declared they will not change the way they treat legal cannabis businesses.
Image Credit: Javier Hasse
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