America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash

America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash
© Camille Fine

On an August morning in 2011 Rhonda Firestack-Harvey and two of her girlfriends were enjoying the warm day until 10 cars came careening up her driveway. Before Rhonda knew what was happening, 20 officers jumped out, guns drawn and began running around her property in Kettle Falls, a rural area in Washington state.

Terrified, Rhonda sat shaking as men searched every inch of her house, while those outside yelled and pulled up the cannabis plants she and her family were growing legally under Washington’s medical cannabis program.

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She produced the family’s medical cards as soon as the officers asked, but they continued the search for hours, ultimately confiscating her 4-wheeler, her hunting rifles and all her cash with no explanation of what would happen next.

 

The experience was shocking, but it was just the beginning. A week later the group returned, searching the entire property anew, taking more vehicles and leaving the family shocked and afraid. They were law abiding citizens with serious medical conditions. How could this happen?

The intervening years have been devastating for Rhonda and her family: Her husband Larry passed of pancreatic cancer, spending his last days worrying about what would happen to his family once he was gone. Rhonda, in addition to her chronic degenerative bone disorder and osteoporosis now suffers from depression and anxiety. She still shakes when she thinks about it, and panics whenever a car comes up her driveway unannounced.

Rhonda and her family are not alone; the Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent over a half a billion dollars in raids to interrupt state medical cannabis programs, putting thousands of people through similarly destructive and unnecessary federal interference.

Their experiences are exactly why Congress passed the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Medical Marijuana Amendment in 2014. The amendment prohibits the DOJ from expending any funds toward the prosecution of those participating in state medical cannabis programs acting in accordance with state law.

Thanks to this amendment, in October of 2017, the assistant U.S. attorney determined it could no longer spend money on Rhonda and her family’s case, which may finally end the seven-year nightmare, and hundreds of other families facing similar ordeals are now also protected.

This vital medical marijuana amendment was included in the continuing resolution (CR) signed by the president in May 2017, but is now set to expire December 8th. Because House leadership blocked the amendment from its fiscal 2018 appropriations package, the amendment may not survive this year’s reconciliation process.

Americans for Safe Access and our members are now calling on Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Stefanik: GOP leaders need to step up their female recruitment efforts McConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill MORE, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOval Office clash ups chances of shutdown On The Money: Trump, Dems battle over border wall before cameras | Clash ups odds of shutdown | Senators stunned by Trump's shutdown threat | Pelosi calls wall 'a manhood thing' for Trump Mellman: Enemies of democracy MORE, and Democratic leaders Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown MORE (D-Calif.) and Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, Democratic leaders go toe-to-toe at White House Overnight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump moves to ease Obama water rule | EPA document contradicts agency over water rule data| Manchin to be top Dem on Senate Energy panel Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee MORE (D-N.Y.) , along with senior appropriators Reps. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenFeehery: How Republicans can counter the possible impeachment push Hispanic Caucus sets red lines on DHS spending bill Overnight Energy: Trump to nominate Wheeler as EPA chief | House votes to remove protections for gray wolves | Lawmakers aim to pass disaster funds for California fires MORE (R-N.J.) and Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOval Office clash ups chances of shutdown Overnight Defense: Trump, Dem leaders fight before cameras over border wall | GOP skeptical of having military build wall | US spars with Russia, Venezuela over bomber deployment Trump, Democrats battle over wall in Oval Office spat MORE (D-N.Y) and Sens. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy Espy files to run for Senate in 2020, setting up possible rematch with Hyde-Smith MORE (R-Miss.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOval Office clash ups chances of shutdown Senators dumbfounded by Trump vow to shut down government House Republican partisan riders could poison federal budget talks MORE (D-Vt.) to continue protecting families from such protracted legal battles and the outdated and dangerous attitude of Attorney General Jeff Session’s Department of Justice.

Sessions has refused to make any substantive statements about his actual plans for medical cannabis programs, but his past comments demonstrate a basic distrust of cannabis and all those who use it  — even legally. Early on his career, he claimed to have thought the Ku Klux Klan “were OK until I learned they smoked pot.

Upon becoming attorney general, he’s only continued such outlandish attacks, stating “I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

To refer to cannabis, which is being used medicinally under doctor supervision by over 2 million Americans as “only slightly less awful” than heroin is outrageous. Researchers have in fact warned that federal interference in state medical cannabis programs could worsen the opioid overdose crisis.  

And it appears he has no desire to protect law-abiding Americans. On May 1, 2017, he sent Congressional leadership a letter requesting they not pass the CJS Medical Marijuana Amendment. When asked about his attitudes toward DOJ policies and the medical cannabis programs he told the Senate “...I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states. And we will do our best to enforce the laws as we’re required to do so.”

The CR runs out Dec. 8. If Congress chooses not to keep the CJS Medical Marijuana Amendment, medical cannabis patients will be vulnerable to the fervent bite of AG Sessions; we cannot take away such critical protections.

Beth Collins joined the staff of Americans for Safe Access in January 2016 to help advocates initiate, expand and improve state medical cannabis laws and programs, and work with Federal decision makers to reschedule cannabis and reduce the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws.