Sessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump distances himself from Rosenstein by saying Sessions hired him Gowdy: Declassified documents unlikely to change anyone's mind on Russia investigation Pompeo on Rosenstein bombshell: Maybe you just ought to find something else to do if you can't be on the team 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 GardnerSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Colorado governor sets up federal PAC before potential 2020 campaign Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law 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 TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser 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 lawmaker makes light of Kavanaugh allegation: 'Give me a break' Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls Overnight Energy: Watchdog to investigate EPA over Hurricane Harvey | Panel asks GAO to expand probe into sexual harassment in science | States sue over methane rules rollback 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 BlumenauerOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Congress just failed our nation’s veterans when it comes to medical marijuana 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 ClintonGraham: There's a 'bureaucratic coup' taking place against Trump Fox News poll shows Dems with edge ahead of midterms Poll: Democrats in position to retake the House 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 CurbeloDems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal 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 CoffmanGiffords PAC features hypothetical texts during school lockdown in ad against Colorado rep Dems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls 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 MurkowskiKavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Murkowski says she’ll wait until Ford testifies before making decision on Kavanaugh 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 GillibrandGillibrand calls for Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn Teen girls pen open letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser: We imagine you at that party and 'see ourselves' Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 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 SullivanCruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke Spotlight shifts to Kavanaugh ahead of hearings GOP senator: Trump firing Sessions wouldn't be 'politically wise' 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.