Sessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage House gears up for Mueller testimony Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender 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 GardnerTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout 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 TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' 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 RohrabacherThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz Former GOP Rep. Rohrabacher joins board of cannabis company 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 BlumenauerHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran House approves defense bill after adding liberal sweeteners 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 ClintonMatt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' What to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch 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 CurbeloDemocratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz 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 CoffmanKoch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Denver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' 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 MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse 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 GillibrandDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash 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 SullivanAlarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales 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.