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Sessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas 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 GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 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.

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"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 TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as 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.

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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 RohrabacherOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success GOP's Steel wins California House race after Democrat Rouda concedes 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 bill proposes to add billion in restaurant relief funds White House pressed on evacuating Afghan allies as time runs out Rivers, hydropower and climate resilience 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 ClintonTrump asks Biden to give Putin his 'warmest regards' Huma Abedin announces book deal Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records 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 CurbeloCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women House Democrats call on Republicans to return Marjorie Taylor Greene donation Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' 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 CoffmanColorado governor says he was not exposed to COVID-19 after Aurora mayor tests positive Colorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody 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.” 

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Another Republican in a state that has legalized marijuana, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiWhite House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden mission abroad: reward friends, constrain adversaries 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 GillibrandOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Top general: Military justice overhaul proposed by Gillibrand 'requires some detailed study' Cher apologizes for confusing Sinema, Gillibrand 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 SullivanChina conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit US, Taiwan to discuss trade, investments, Blinken says Chinese state media rip senators' stop in Taiwan: 'A treacherous move' 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.