It's almost enough to make you start to feel sorry for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Late last week, reporters asked President Donald Trump about a new bill regarding marijuana. The bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, would leave the decisions about whether to legalize marijuana up to individual states.
Seeing how Sessions, presumably under the direction of Trump, has been working to tighten the federal stance against marijuana, the attorney general might have been surprised by the president's answer:
"We're looking at it," Trump said as he prepared to depart Washington for a pair of foreign summits. "But I probably will end up supporting that, yes."
Now, granted, this is Trump, so it's not at all out of the question that he's already changed his mind. And seeing how the president also has, from time to time, shown a predilection for giving heed to the person who most recently has caught his ear, it's also possible that his position on this issue is, shall we say, malleable.
However, his remarks last week are similar to the position that he seemed to be staking out during the campaign, when he said legalization of pot was a state issue. But then he appointed Sessions, a longtime foe of legalization, and it appeared that Trump had changed his mind. His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that the president's top priority would be "enforcing federal law." She added: "That would be his top priority, and that is regardless of what the topic is."
Of course, federal law still bans marijuana, despite the 30 states that have legalized medical or recreational use of pot. (Federal law continues to list marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, the designation given to the drugs that have the highest potential for abuse and no proven medical benefit.) So that sets up a conflict between federal law and the states such as Oregon that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use.
With Trump appearing to cede the stage on marijuana to Sessions, the attorney general got to work, rolling back the guidance from the Obama administration's Justice Department to federal prosecutors in pot-friendly states and reversing the previous president's work to ease punishment in nonviolent drug cases.
But now comes the new twist from Trump regarding the Gardner-Warren bill.
Sen. Gardner emphasized last week that his proposal does not call for legalizing marijuana throughout the country. Instead, he said on Twitter, his proposal "allows the principle of federalism to prevail as the founding fathers intended and leaves the marijuana question up to the states" — which seems close to the position that Trump was staking out during the campaign.
Sen. Warren, in an interview on Fox News, said the idea behind the legislation is to ease the conflicts between federal law on pot and the laws in those states that have legalized the drug. (Massachusetts, by the way, is scheduled to begin marijuana sales later this year.)
It's been a mixed bag for the states that have legalized marijuana: In Oregon, for example, legalization has opened the door to a wave of pot entrepreneurs and has enriched the state's tax coffers by millions of dollars. On the other hand, the state also is dealing with a huge oversupply of pot, which is flooding into other states where the substance still is illegal. And law enforcement agencies still are working through the ramifications of legalization.
But Trump's original campaign position, that legalization should be left to the states, is proper. As the tide nationally turns in favor of legalization, other states can benefit from the lessons learned in states like Oregon and Colorado.
As for Sessions, he knew when he signed onto the administration that it would be a crazy ride. On that level, Trump hasn't disappointed. (mm)