Tag Archives: Jeff Sessions

Trump’s DOJ gears up for crackdown on marijuana

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By Lydia Wheeler – 07/23/17 07:30 AM EDT

The Trump administration is readying for a crackdown on marijuana users under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

President Trump’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Sessions, is expected to release a report next week that criminal justice reform advocates fear will link marijuana to violent crime and recommend tougher sentences for those caught growing, selling and smoking the plant. 

Sessions sent a memo in April updating the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department of Justice Department (DOJ) component heads on the work of the task force, which he said would be accomplished through various subcommittees. In the memo, Sessions said he has asked for initial recommendations no later than July 27.

“Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities,” he wrote. 

Criminal justice reform advocates fear Sessions’s memo signals stricter enforcement is ahead.

“The task force revolves around reducing violent crime and Sessions and other DOJ officials have been out there over the last month and explicitly the last couple of weeks talking about how immigration and marijuana increases violent crime,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. 

“We’re worried there’s going to be something in the recommendations that is either saying that that’s true or recommending action be taken based on that being true.”

Sessions sent a letter in May asking congressional leaders to do away with an amendment to the DOJ budget prohibiting the agency from using federal funds to prevent states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” said the letter from Sessions, first obtained by Massroots.com and verified by The Washington Post.

As for the task force, Sessions said another subcommittee would “explore our use of asset forfeiture and make recommendations on any improvements needed to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations.”

On Wednesday, Sessions reportedly re-established a controversial criminal asset seizure program ahead of the committee’s recommendations.

Local law enforcement leaders say a crackdown appears to be next, though they argue there’s no need for it.

“From a practitioner’s point of view, marijuana is not a drug that doesn’t have some danger to it, but it’s not the drug that’s driving violent crime in America,” said Ronal Serpas, the former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department and co-chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

“That’s not the drug with which we see so much death and destruction on the streets of America. Crack and powdered cocaine, heroin and opioids is where we’re seeing people die on street corners fighting over territory or control.”

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and another 21 states allow the use of medical marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, but marijuana use is still illegal under federal law.

If Sessions ignites a fight over states’ rights, Chettiar wonders whether it will spur Republicans into a showdown with the Trump administration on criminal justice reform.   

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who publicly criticized Sessions for reversing Obama-era guidelines on criminal charges and sentencing in May, said he’s not in favor of the DOJ interfering with state policies regarding marijuana. 

“I will oppose anybody from the administration or otherwise that wants to interfere with state policy,” he told The Hill this week.

Paul is part of a bipartisan group of Senators pushing legislation to allow patients to continue accessing medical marijuana in states where it is legal without fear of federal prosecution.

Legislation introduced last month by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Paul introduced — known as the The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act — would amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies.

According to Politifact, Trump pledged to leave marijuana legalization up to the states while on the campaign trail. But last month he reportedly pushed back against the congressional ban on the DOJ interfering with state medical marijuana laws in a signing statement, asserting that he isn’t legally bound to the limits imposed by Congress.

The DOJ’s likely move on marijuana comes amid rising tensions between Trump and Sessions.

Trump in an interview with The New York Times publicly dressed down Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, calling that decision “very unfair” to him.

Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone argued this week that Trump has been disappointed in Sessions.

“The president initially bonded with Sessions because he saw him as a tough guy,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.

“Now he’s saying: ‘Where’s my tough guy? Why doesn’t he have my back?’ There’s a lack of aggressiveness with Sessions, unless it involves chasing people for smoking pot.”

In an interview with The Hill, Booker called Sessions “one of the greatest threats to the safety of our local communities in America.”

“If you try to start prosecuting marijuana … you create more violence and more danger as well as greater government cost,” he said. “These policies that he’s doing ultimately go to the core of the safety of our communities.”

Though Sessions appears to be an obstacle for lawmakers and advocates who want sentencing reform, Booker said he’s not “insurmountable.”

“If we can overcome Strom Thurmond’s filibuster against the civil rights bill, we can overcome a U.S. Attorney General who is out of step with history and out of step with his party,” he said. 

But Sessions isn’t alone in his views on pot. Though he said he believes in the need for sentencing reform, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seemed to agree this week that there needs to be stricter enforcement.

“I believe marijuana probably needs to be cracked down on, but we’ll see when he sends it over,” Graham said of the task force report.

Tags Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Jeff Sessions Al Franken Rand Paul Mike Lee

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DOJ’s Mysterious Marijuana Subcommittee

Submitted by Marijuana News on Wed, 06/07/2017 – 08:45

Few details have emerged about a potentially influential review.

Led by an outspoken legalization opponent, Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department is reviewing federal marijuana policy, with significant changes possible soon. Almost nothing about the review process is publicly known and key players in the policy debate have not been contacted.

The outcome of the review could devastate a multibillion-dollar industry and countermand the will of voters in eight states if the Obama administration’s permissive stance on non-medical sales is reversed.

What is known: The review is being conducted by a subcommittee of a larger crime-reduction task force that will issue recommendations by July 27. The subcommittee was announced in April alongside other subcommittees reviewing charging and sentencing.

The task force is co-chaired by Steve Cook, an assistant U.S. attorney in Tennessee who like Sessions advocates harsh criminal penalties and a traditional view of drug prohibition. The other co-chair is Robyn Thiemann, a longtime department official who works as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy.

The marijuana subcommittee is led by Michael Murray, counsel to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, U.S. News has learned.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 2009, Murray ricocheted between law firms and public-sector jobs. He served less than a year as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia in 2013 before clerking for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, according to his LinkedIn page. He worked at the Jones Day law firm before joining the Trump Justice Department.

Murray could not be reached for comment and Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined to comment on the “deliberative processes within the department“ when asked to discuss Murray’s role.

The department declined to identify other members of the subcommittee, the scope of its policy review or name outside groups that are being consulted.

The lack of information provided and the seemingly secretive nature of the review has proponents of a more lenient marijuana policy concerned.

“It’s difficult to ascertain any clear information about the subcommittee and how they’re working,” says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group representing marijuana businesses.

West says the group is focused on building relationships with members of Congress and points to overwhelming public support for respecting state marijuana laws — 73 percent, according to an April survey by Quinnipiac University.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a large advocacy group that has led many of the successful state legalization campaigns, also says it is not in touch with the subcommittee.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a leading marijuana reform advocate, requested to meet with Sessions about the issue but was refused, says Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs.

“Without knowing much about the approach the subcommittee is taking, it’s hard to say whether we’d expect them to reach out,” West says. “So far, [Sessions’] comments have not indicated a lot of willingness to work together toward common ground.”

It’s unclear if agencies under the Justice Department’s umbrella, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, are contributing to the subcommittee.

DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg told U.S. News on Tuesday that he is not personally involved in the review, and that he didn’t know if any of his subordinates are. A DEA spokesman was not immediately able to provide additional information.


Vermont would join eight states and the nation's capital in allowing recreational pot use. State cannabis laws vary significantly and many are in the process of implementation.

Eight states have laws authorizing regulated recreational marijuana sales. More than half allow medical marijuana. (STEVEN NELSON FOR USN&WR)


Marijuana possession for any reason outside limited research remains a federal crime. Most state medical programs are protected from federal enforcement by a congressional spending restriction. Recreational programs are protected only by the 2013 Cole Memothat allowed states to regulate sales so long as certain enforcement triggers aren’t tripped, such as diversion to other states, distribution to minors, public health consequences and involvement of criminal groups.

State-legal cannabis businesses hit $6.7 billion in estimated sales last year. Cannabis companies are believed to employ more than 100,000 workers and they collect hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal taxes.

Listening to diverse points of view on marijuana policy is significant because the effects of regulated sales are debated, and data can be spliced to support a point of view.

For example, multiple federal and statesurveys indicate that teen use of marijuana has not increased since 2012, when the states legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older. But use rates have fluctuated for years, so comparing current use to a particularly low-use year further in the past can offer a different impression about trends.

Diversion to other states is also debated. A law enforcement task force called Rocky Mountain HIDTA claimed that intercepts of marijuana mail out of Colorado increased following legalization, sourcing the information to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. But a USPIS spokesperson told U.S. News state-specific records did not exist. Though state-specific records are not available, national parcel intercepts did increase in 2016 after two years of declines. Two states sued Colorado unsuccessfully claiming spillover.

Mexican drug cartels, meanwhile, have been caught smuggling significantly lessmarijuana across the southern border. And it’s unclear if local increases in drugged driving arrests and marijuana hospital admissions are primarily the result of legalization policies or improved awareness and reporting.

In April, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Sessions told him the Cole Memo was “not too far from good policy.” But the attorney general has repeatedly made clear his personal objection to marijuana use and legalization.

In March Sessions scoffed at marijuana’s medical potential and evidence showing legal access associated with less opioid abuse. The prepared copy of a March speech called marijuana use a “life-wrecking dependency” that’s “only slightly less awful” than heroin addiction. In May Sessions said there was “too much legalization talk and not enough prevention talk.” Last year, he famously declared that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

President Donald Trump said during the presidential campaign that he does not personally support marijuana legalization, but favors state autonomy. Recent national polls show roughly 60 percent of Americans believe marijuana use should be legal.

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“…We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana,”

marijuana

Kamala Harris to Trump: Leave grandma’s marijuana alone

By Sean Cockerham

scockerham@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON

Sen. Kamala Harris of California used the year’s first big 2020 presidential spotlight Tuesday to rail against Trump administration drug policies and call for easing laws governing marijuana.

“Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions. We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana,” she said, referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Tuesday’s Ideas Conference, put on by the influential liberal think tank Center for American Progress, was a widely watched testing ground for a Democratic Party that is desperately in search of new leadership. More than 100 reporters signed up to cover the event, with hundreds of spectators in the audience at a ballroom in the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown.

Harris’ address comes as the freshman senator broadens her profile, including in recent days an extended appearance on CNN’s “The Lead” and the commencement address at Howard University, her alma mater. Harris was among the most anticipated Democratic up-and-comers in an Ideas Conference lineup that also included oft-mentioned potential presidential candidates such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Harris insists she’s not thinking about a run for president but progressive leaders at the Ideas Conference were closely watching her with 2020 in mind.

Michele Jawando, vice president for legal progress at the Center for American Progress, was struck by Harris’ decision to focus on Sessions’ criminal justice policies – an issue that’s been lost amid the fire hose of news about Trump’s Russia controversies.

“(Harris) is without question someone we’re going to continue to talk about,” she said.

Harris focused on Sessions’ new dictate that federal prosecutors pursue the toughest criminal penalties possible – including mandatory minimum sentences – for drugs and other crimes. Sessions is threatening to pursue federal marijuana prosecutions even in states like California that voted to legalized pot.

“While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs – as a career prosecutor I just don’t – we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana,” Harris said, in one of the strongest pro-pot statements that she has made in her political career.

Harris called Sessions’ push for maximum sentences a revival of a failed war on drugs in which Latinos and African-Americans were disproportionately incarcerated and the nation’s drug issues only got worse.

“Instead of going after violent crime, drug cartels, and major traffickers, we’re worried about the neighborhood street-level dealer,” she said. “Instead of addressing the core issue of addiction and getting folks into treatment, we’re going to overcrowd and build more prisons.”

Harris told the progressive crowd that the issue offers an opening for them to ally with conservatives. Republicans including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky oppose harsh sentencing such as mandatory minimum terms as a useless destroyer of lives. And opioid addiction is devastating red and blue states alike.

The Ideas Conference had Californians at the forefront of the Democratic Party’s search for leadership. California Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters were featured and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a potential candidate for governor of California, made an appearance.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, also a possible candidate for governor next year, gave the opening address.

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DoJ Task Force Moves to Review Federal Cannabis Policy

In a DoJ memo, AG Jeff Sessions called for a subcommittee on marijuana and an email shows the DEA inquiring about Colorado cases.

By Aaron G. Biros

In a memo sent throughout the Department of Justice on April 5th, attorney general Jeff Sessions outlines the establishment of the Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. That task force, largely focused on violent crime, is supposed to find ways that federal prosecutors can more effectively reduce illegal immigration, violent crimes and gun violence.

The task force is made up of subcommittees, according to the memo, and one of them is focused on reviewing federal cannabis policy. “Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities,” the memo reads. “Another subcommittee will explore our use of asset forfeiture and make recommendations on any improvements needed to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations.” Those existing policies that Sessions refers to in the memo could very well be the 2013 Cole Memorandum, an Obama administration decree that essentially set up a framework for states with legal cannabis laws to avoid federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.

In the past, Sessions has said he thinks the Cole Memo is valid, but remains skeptical of medical cannabis. In the last several months, comments made by Sessions and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have sparked outrage and growing fears among stakeholders in the cannabis industry, including major business players and state lawmakers. As a general feeling of uncertainty surrounding federal cannabis policy grows, many are looking for a safe haven, which could mean looking to markets outside of the U.S., like Canada, for example.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Washington State’s former Attorney General Rob McKenna, Washington State’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Moran, and Maryland’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General Kay Winfree recently went on the record identifying the BioTrack THC traceability system as fully compliant with the Cole Memo. “The key to meeting the requirements of the Cole Memorandum is ‘both the existence of a strong and effective state regulatory system, and an operation’s compliance with that system’,” says the former attorney general and chief deputy attorneys general in a press release. “As described above, Washington State has a robust, comprehensive regulatory scheme that controls the entire marijuana supply chain.

The email sent to Colorado prosecutor Michael Melito

The flagship component of this regulatory scheme is the WSLCB’s seed to sale inventory system, the BioTrackTHC Traceability System.” Those commendations from a former attorney general could provide some solace to business operating with the seed-to-sale traceability software.

Still though, worries in the industry are fueled by speculation and a general lack of clarity from the Trump Administration and the Department of Justice. In an email obtained by an open records request and first reported by the International Business Times, a DEA supervisor asked a Colorado prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office about a number of cannabis-related prosecutions. The DEA supervisor asked for the state docket numbers of a handful of cases, including one involving cannabis being shipped out of state, according to The Denver Post. “Some of our intel people are trying to track down info regarding some of DEA’s better marijuana investigations for the new administration,” reads the email. “Hopefully it will lead to some positive changes.” So far, only speculations have emerged pertaining to its significance or lack thereof and what this could possibly mean for the future of federal cannabis policy.

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“He told me he would have some respect for states’ right on these things,”

“He told me he would have some respect for states’ right on these things,” Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), told Politico. “And so I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not [what] my interpretation of my conversation with him was. That this wasn’t his intention.”

 

Elizabeth Warren demands Jeff Sessions respect state marijuana law

Posted 1:57 PM, March 4, 2017, by Tribune Media Wire

By Ese Olumhense

States need ‘immediate assurance’ from Sessions and Department of Justice

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, urging their former colleague not to undo a 2013 policy permitting states to set their own recreational marijuana regulations.

Led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the push is a response to recent mixed messages from the Trump administration on whether it will enforce federal law which still bars recreational marijuana use, or leave the decision to implement the federal policy to the states.

Sessions, speaking to the National Association of Attorneys General on Tuesday, had said he was “dubious about marijuana.” Less than a week before, at a White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer cautioned that “greater enforcement” of the federal statute could come and later likened recreational pot use to the opioid addiction crisis happening across the country.

For some senators, however, the possibility of “greater enforcement” signals an intrusion into states’ rights in a way that is concerning.

“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the [Department of Justice] that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” the group wrote.

Though legal in some states, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug

Eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Twenty-eight states in total have comprehensive medical marijuana laws, and 17 have limited use or limited criminal defense laws for marijuana that is used for a medicinal purpose.

Federal law, however, still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, one with “no currently accepted medical use.” As recently as August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) refused to change that designation — meaning the federal government is still armed with the authority to arrest, charge, and prosecute pot growers, buyers, or sellers in states where marijuana is legal.

Sessions has been a fierce opponent of marijuana for any use and his confirmation prompted fears that the DOJ would follow the example set by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who served under George W. Bush, and target dispensaries in places where recreational pot use is legal.

Sessions did little to quell those fears on Tuesday, slamming the argument made by pot proponents that marijuana has medical benefits.

“Give me a break,” Sessions said, referring to a Washington Post article on marijuana as a treatment for opiate addiction. “This is the kind of argument that’s been made out there, just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana, or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong, but at this point in time you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgment.”

Senators’ concerns of overreach may be overblown

Though the senators’ letter was celebrated by some constituents on social media, the concern may be overblown.

Politico reported Thursday that behind closed doors prior to his confirmation Sessions assured some GOP senators that Department of Justice will not be implementing “greater enforcement” measures for recreational marijuana. The attorney general’s previous comments had bothered some conservative officials, who felt that a decision to crack down on legal pot would be an unwelcome overreach.

“He told me he would have some respect for states’ right on these things,” Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), told Politico. “And so I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not [what] my interpretation of my conversation with him was. That this wasn’t his intention.”

Upending the Obama-era legal pot directive would not only be unpopular with some senators, but unfavorable to the majority of Americans. It would also be difficult, as the DEA only has about 4,600 employees, which would likely need to coordinate big, costly operations in states in which law enforcement has no laws against marijuana to enforce. A federal crackdown in the courts might also eliminate many of the regulations and oversight set by states which permit the use of marijuana.

On the flip side, making marijuana legal for recreational use nationwide would generate millions in tax revenue, advocates claim, and allow for more oversight into a growing industry. Just one year after becoming the first state to allow the purchase and sale of marijuana, Colorado raked in $53 million in revenue

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Jeff Sessions confirmed to be the next attorney general

By Ashley Killough, Tom LoBianco and Ted Barrett, CNN

Updated 10:25 PM ET, Wed February 8, 2017

Washington (CNN)The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as the next attorney general, surviving a vocal push by Democrats to derail his nomination.

The 52-47 vote was mostly along party lines, though one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, joined the Republicans to back their Alabama colleague.

Who voted for and against Sessions

    The final vote for Sessions — one of Trump’s closest advisers and his earliest supporter in the Senate — came after 30 hours of debate from Democrats and a stunning fight between liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Republicans which ended in her being forced to sit down after she was accused of impugning Sessions.

    Sessions said he would resign from his office 11:59 p.m. Wednesday and the White House is scheduled to swear him in Thursday morning.

    “It was a special night,” Sessions told reporters on Capitol Hill after his confirmation. “I appreciate the friendship from my colleagues — even those who, many of them who didn’t feel able to vote for me. They were cordial, and so we continue to have good relations and will continue to do the best I can.”

    The fight over Sessions nomination spurred some of the most jarring, and at times personal attacks, rooted in allegations that Sessions was a racist — claims the Alabama senator and his supporters have fiercely denied. Even early in the nomination process, one of Sessions’ colleagues, Cory Booker, became the first sitting senator to testify against another sitting senator during his confirmation hearing.

    Shortly before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to sing the praises of Sessions, after Democrats spent hours criticizing him.

    “He’s just a likable guy, one of the most humble and most considerate people you’ll ever meet,” McConnell said. “He’s a true Southern gentleman.”

    While some left-leaning groups issued statements promising to stand up and continue raising awareness about their disagreements with Sessions, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe questioned how effective they could be in trying to keep up the fight.

    “What are they going to do? He’s the attorney general. Where does the fight start? Where’s the ammunition?” He said to reporters.

    In the debate Tuesday evening, after Republicans already blocked a Senate filibuster, Warren reignited that debate by reading from a 1986 letter Coretta Scott King sent opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship.

    “‘Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,'” Warren read from King’s letter. McConnell accused Warren of impugning Sessions on the Senate floor — a violation of Senate rules — and after a series of procedural votes, she was forced to sit down and stop debating.

    Warren’s censure and subsequent reaction continued to largely overshadow the Sessions fight in the hours before his vote, but the Massachusetts Democrat told CNN’s Manu Raju said Sessions, whom she served with in the chamber, is just the latest example of a poor Cabinet choice.

    “We may not have the votes to stop him,” she said, “but we sure as hell need to make it clear to the Republicans and to the American people exactly who Donald Trump is putting in charge of our government.”

    Sessions was ultimately blocked from a federal judgeship and carried that battle scar into Wednesday’s final confirmation battle.

    Democrats not done yet on nominees

    Democrats are expected to repeat the same 30-hour debate plan for Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Price and could easily drag the fight over Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin into the weekend.

    Tuesday, Betsy DeVos was confirmed, 51-50, in a battle that sparked impassioned protests and the flooding of Senate switchboards by angry Democrats and liberal activists.

    The tactics have yet to work in actually defeating any of Trump’s Cabinet picks, but they have fired up a base of Democratic and liberal activists irate over a series of Trump actions, not least of which was picking a Republican mega-donor in DeVos to run the Department of Education.

    “When you get millions of calls and demonstrations and a nominee is exposed for being who they are, it’s going to have a profound and positive effect, even if she gains office. So we’re very happy with the results and we’re going to continue them,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.

    But Republicans have chafed at what they call “historic obstruction” and have argued that Trump needs his team in place.

    “This is the slowest time for a new Cabinet to be up and running since George Washington. This level of obstruction at the beginning of an administration is really record-setting in a very unfortunate way. It’s really time for our friends on the other side to get over the election, let this administration get up and get running,” McConnell said Tuesday.

    The only nominee who appears to be in any trouble at this point is Labor secretary pick Andrew Puzder, who is embroiled in controversy following news that he hired an undocumented worker to clean his house and was forced to pay back taxes. A series of Republicans on the Senate panel tasked with vetting him declined to say Tuesday whether they still supported Puzder.

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    Marijuana backers worry over AG Sessions

    Marijuana backers worry over AG Sessions

    Supporters of liberalizing marijuana laws worry their relationship with the federal government is about to get a lot more contentious as members of the incoming Donald Trump administration signal they will take a harder line on drug policy.

    During the Obama administration, Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch agreed not to enforce some drug laws in states where marijuana is legal. That is likely to change under Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President-elect Trump’s nominee to become attorney general.

    Sessions is considered one of the staunchest pot opponents in the Senate, a hard-line conservative who once remarked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he learned members smoked marijuana. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this year, Sessions said he wanted to send a message that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

    “Sessions doesn’t appear to have a very enlightened view about the war on drugs, so that’s somewhat discouraging,” said Pete Holmes, Seattle’s city attorney and one of the driving forces behind Washington’s decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

    “When you hear the kind of knee-jerk biases expressed by a guy who will be the nation’s top law enforcement official, it’s scary.”

    Supporters of liberalizing marijuana laws have scored big wins in recent years, as voters in both red and blue states have loosened marijuana laws. After November’s elections, more than half of states will allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and eight states will allow marijuana for recreational purposes. 

    The legal marijuana industry is becoming a billion-dollar boon for businesses and investors and a reliable new source of revenue for cash-poor cities and states. Earlier this month, voters in Massachusetts, Maine, California and Nevada joined Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia in legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

    But marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and pro-pot advocates have maintained an uneasy truce with the Justice Department under President Obama.

    As attorney general, Sessions has a host of options for changing the federal government’s posture toward marijuana.

    He could follow precedent set by Holder and Lynch and let states chart their own path, or, on the other extreme, he could tell governors that any state that issues a license to permit marijuana sales would stand in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. 

    Sessions could revisit the Cole memo, the August 2013 memorandum written to federal prosecutors by then-deputy Attorney General James Cole that lays out the Justice Department’s priorities in prosecuting drug cases. The Cole memo allowed prosecutors to skip cases in states that institute regulatory and enforcement systems to oversee marijuana sales.

    To legal pot opponents, the Cole memo — and other steps the Obama Justice Department has taken — is an abdication of responsibility to implement federal law.

    “We want to see federal law enforced. I think a clear letter asking states to stand down until Congress changes the law makes the most sense, and I think governors in these states would gladly oblige,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization.

    The debate over marijuana legalization is a proxy, however imperfect, for the larger question of states’ rights.

    Legal marijuana backers say they hope Sessions and Trump let the states experiment as the founders intended.

    Sessions co-sponsored a bill introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) last year that would have allowed states to challenge proposed federal rules under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which reserves rights for the states. That gives some legal marijuana backers at least a glimmer of hope that the incoming administration won’t crack the whip.

    “Voters in 28 states have chosen programs that shift cannabis from the criminal market to highly regulated, tax-paying businesses. Sen. Sessions has long advocated for state sovereignty, and we look forward to working with him to ensure that states’ rights and voter choices on cannabis are respected,” said Aaron Smith, who heads the National Cannabis Industry Association in Denver. 

    But opponents of marijuana liberalization say they see their own encouraging signs that the tide toward legalization may be turning.

    “We’ve all wondered whether the Trump presidency would be ‘states rights’ or ‘law and order’ when it comes to drugs,” Sabet wrote in an email. “The Sessions pick makes many of us think it may be the latter.”

    Even with Sessions overseeing the Justice Department, legal marijuana proponents are likely to continue pursuing liberalization through ballot measures and state legislatures. 

    Marijuana legalization measures are already circulating in Ohio, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri. Legislatures in states like New Jersey, Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island are likely to take up marijuana legalization bills in upcoming legislative sessions.

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    Exclusive — Sen. Rand Paul Visits Secret Room To Read Obamatrade, Calls For Public Release Of Deal Text

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

    93%

    an opponent of the secretive Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that would fast-track the Pacific Rim trade deal Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—went inside the secret room inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning to read the TPP text and told Breitbart News exclusively afterwards that he believes President Barack Obama should make it public now.

    The deal’s text is kept in a room behind double doors that each have signs: “No Public Or Media Beyond This Point.”

    “It’s done like you’re going in to read a classified briefing though it’s not actually ‘classified.’ It’s called ‘confidential,’” Paul said in an interview with Breitbart News outside the room after reading it. Paul and his legal staff spent about 45 minutes in the room reading the deal’s text.

    “I think the staff signed an agreement [which didn’t include a non-disclosure]—they signed in, it’s  a normal procedure,” he explained. “But I wasn’t required to sign in.”

    When asked for some of the details that are inside the TPP agreement, Paul said he’s not allowed to tell us that. But he did say the secret trade deal that his Kentucky colleague, Senate Majority Leader

    Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

    54%

    , wants to rush through the Senate is about 800 pages long. He added he plans to seek additional information from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office—including a briefing from them—and suspects that the text he read isn’t even the final version of the deal.

    “I think I am not supposed to reveal the details of it, but I can tell you it was about 800 pages long,” Paul said.

    I think while we’ve gotten at least some headway in understanding what’s in it, I think it raises more questions that will require more research to fully understand what’s in it. We’re going to pursue that with someone from the U.S. Trade Representative—we’re going to pursue more information from them. Some of the questions are whether we’re seeing the final agreement or this is in the interim agreement before the final agreement. That’s a question we still have. I have a feeling that what we’re seeing is a work product, not a final.

    Paul said he thinks the “secretive” process hurts the “cause” of TPA and TPP advocates, and is calling on the Obama administration to publicly release the deal’s details before future votes on the matter in the U.S. Senate.

    “The thing is is that I think it actually hurts their cause by making it so secretive—while I can’t discuss the details of what was in there because of them calling it secret, I didn’t see anything that I didn’t think couldn’t be made public with a problem,” Paul said. “If so, I’m missing something because we read through 800 pages of it and we didn’t see anything that I couldn’t conclude couldn’t be made public.”

    Paul said he thinks the secretive process makes it look like the government has “something to hide” and that he thinks if Obama opened up the process it’d make it easier for several Senators—and the American people—to truly understand what it is they’re voting on.

    “I think it would make a difference for some folks, myself included, if they were to make it less secret because they think that really to vote on things that there’s a suspicion among the American public that if someone is making something secret they’ve got something to hide—particularly from the government’s point of view—so I’d like to see the process opened up,” Paul said.

    Paul, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, stands alongside most of the rest of the field in opposition to Obamatrade. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina compared the secretive process to Obamacare’s passage in the early days of this president’s administration. Dr. Ben Carson also called for more transparency, as did Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is concerned with the deal’s impacts on American workers.

    On the other side, Sens.

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

    81%

    and

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

    96%

    are in favor of the deal—even though it’s unclear if either has, like Paul now has, visited the secret room to read the text. Both could. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry are also in favor of the deal, but wouldn’t be allowed through the doors to read it.

    Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

    80%

    , the emerging conservative kingmaker and the leading intellectual conservative in Congress, has made an identical call to what Paul has for more transparency from the Obama administration.

    Sessions, in a “critical alert” his office issued publicly and to other members on Capitol Hill before the recently-failed votes to begin debate on TPA fast track authority, listed out five “questions the White House will not answer.”

    The questions the White House is refusing to be transparent about, Sessions noted, are: “Will it increase or reduce the trade deficit, and by how much? Will it increase or reduce employment and wages, and by how much? Will you make the “living agreement” section public and explain fully its implications? Will China be added to the TPP? Will you pledge not to issue any executive actions, or enter into any future agreements, impacting the flow of foreign workers into the United States?”

    Read More Stories About:

    Big Government, 2016 Presidential Race, Rand Paul, Jeff Sessions, 2016 presidential campaign, Trans Pacific Partnership, Trade Promotion Authority, Obamatrade

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/05/13/exclusive-sen-rand-paul-visits-secret-room-to-read-obamatrade-calls-for-public-release-of-deal-text/