Sessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Laura Ingraham: Migrant child detention centers 'essentially summer camps' Senate chaplain offers prayer 'as children are being separated from their parents' MORE is facing a barrage of criticism from both parties for ending a policy that gave states the flexibility to allow sales of recreational marijuana. 

Republicans, primarily from states that have legalized marijuana, joined Democrats in slamming the decision and vowing to take action to pressure Sessions to reverse course.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSessions floats federal law that would protect states that decriminalize marijuana RNC mum on whether it will support Trump-backed Corey Stewart Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Dems see midterm advantage in new ObamaCare fight MORE (R-Colo.) took to the Senate floor to assert that Sessions had told him before his confirmation as attorney general that he didn’t plan to try to reverse his state’s policies legalizing marijuana.

"I would like to know from the attorney general what has changed,” Gardner said. “What has changed the president's mind? Why is Donald TrumpDonald John Trump20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing this week MORE thinking differently than what he promised the people of Colorado?”

The Obama administration’s Justice Department announced in 2013 that it would not sue to block states from legalizing marijuana. A memo authored by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole ordered U.S. attorneys to give lower prioritization to prosecuting marijuana-related cases.

That policy once appeared likely to stand under Trump, who said on the 2016 campaign trail that he would not seek to halt recreational marijuana sales in states that legalized it.

“I am a states person. I think it should be up to the states,” he said.

But expectations changed once Trump picked Sessions, one of the most outspoken critics in Congress of Obama’s policy, to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Sessions revoked the Obama-era guidance on Thursday, declaring a “return to the rule of law.”

“Today's memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country," Sessions said in a statement.

Lawmakers seemed to be caught off guard by Sessions’s decision, and many of them expressed anger that their advice was ignored.

Gardner, who leads the Senate GOP campaign arm, said he would block all Justice Department nominees “until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment that he made to me.”

Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherGOP embraces single-payer health-care attack in California The progressive blue wave is crashing and burning in 2018 California: Ground zero for the 2018 midterms MORE (R-Calif.), a longtime proponent of legalizing marijuana, didn’t mince words, either.

“The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels,” Rohrabacher said in a blistering statement, warning that a crackdown on marijuana use would simply lead to more people turning to the black market.

The California Republican is the co-author of a provision with Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerBipartisan lawmakers agree — marijuana prohibition has failed and it’s time to change the law Commodity checkoff reform needed Overnight Defense: Latest on scrapped Korea summit | North Korea still open to talks | Pentagon says no change in military posture | House passes 6B defense bill | Senate version advances MORE (D-Ore.) in the most recent temporary government spending patch that would maintain a prohibition on the Justice Department using funds to stop implementation of state medical marijuana laws. 

Blumenauer called Thursday’s move by Sessions “perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the Attorney General has made.” 

Rohrabacher, who represents a district made competitive since Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonKoch brothers group won't back Stewart in Virginia Giuliani says his demand for Mueller probe to be suspended was for show Poll: GOP challenger narrowly leads Heitkamp in North Dakota MORE carried it in 2016, accused Sessions of hypocrisy for overriding states’ discretion and warned the decision could hurt the GOP’s electoral chances. 

“How ironic that the attorney general has long championed states’ rights when it suits other parts of his agenda!” Rohrabacher said. “By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy.” 

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana, including 51 percent of Republicans, according to a Gallup poll released late last year. 

California this week became the sixth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, while Massachusetts and Maine are expected to do the same in the coming months. 

Republican lawmakers say the fight isn’t about marijuana but states' rights, which they argue the Trump administration is violating with Thursday’s decision.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloZeal, this time from the center The Hill's 12:30 Report Few voice support after House GOP releases 293-page DACA bill MORE, a centrist Republican from Southern Florida who similarly represents a district won by Clinton, said it’s “very disappointing for an Attorney General who supposedly respects the federalist model of our government to take such a drastic step ignoring states’ rights and the decisions of voters and state legislatures across the country.”

A third Republican who hails from a district won by Clinton, Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanDem House candidate gets pepper sprayed in the face in campaign ad Will guns be an issue in midterms? You can bet on it in these districts GOP braces for intraparty fight on immigration MORE (R-Colo.), suggested that Sessions “needs to read” the Constitution’s commerce clause setting limits on the federal government’s ability to regular interstate commerce.

“Colorado had every right to legalize marijuana and I will do everything I can to protect that right against the power of an overreaching federal government.” 

Another Republican in a state that has legalized marijuana, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril McCain calls on Trump to rescind family separation policy: It's 'an affront to the decency of the American people' GOP senator calls on Trump to end 'cruel' family separation policy MORE of Alaska, called Sessions’s decision “disruptive” and “regrettable,” noting that she repeatedly warned him against it.

But opponents of Sessions’s decision could face an uphill battle to getting it reversed through legislation. Lawmakers could insert a rider into a must-pass bill or try to bring up a stand-alone measure, but both actions would likely draw backlash from supporters and the Trump administration.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandSenate passes 6B defense bill Congress must confront sexual abuse of military children The Hill's Morning Report — Can the economy help Republicans buck political history in 2018? MORE (D-N.Y.), considered a potential 2020 contender, said on Thursday that Congress should pass legislation aimed at protecting medical marijuana patients in states where it has been legalized from federal prosecution. 

But any effort to pass the bill would likely struggle to get 60 votes in the Senate, where members of GOP leadership touted Sessions’s decision.

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSupreme court to rehear Alaska moose hunter, hovercraft case Facebook gives 500 pages of answers to lawmakers' data privacy questions Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Alaska) acknowledged that Thursday's announcement is “a challenge for states like mine” but appeared skeptical that a legislative fix was a realistic option.

“I think we need to look at it, but I don't know if we have the votes,” he said.