U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed frustration this week that Justice Department nominees are being delayed in being confirmed because of his stance on the legal status of cannabis in states that have legalized it.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, like Sessions a Republican, has said he would hold up DOJ nominees because of a recent move by Sessions, rescinding a federal policy that had said local federal prosecutors wouldn’t start marijuana cases in states that have legalized its use. Marijuana is legal in Colorado but remains illegal under federal law. Gardner has framed the dispute as one of state’s rights.
“I cannot and will not pretend that a duly enacted law of this country – like the federal ban on marijuana – does not exist,” Sessions said, while speaking to a meeting of the National Sheriff’s Association in Washington on Monday.
“Right now, we’re trying to confirm a number of important component heads at the Department of Justice,” Sessions said, according to prepared remarks released by the DOJ. “That includes a new head of our Criminal Division, our Civil Rights Division, and our National Security Division. These are critically important components—and outstanding nominees. Our nominee to lead the National Security Division was approved unanimously in committee. But because of one senator’s concerns over unrelated political issues—like legalizing marijuana—we can’t even get a vote.
“I’m Attorney General of the United States,” Sessions continued. “I don’t have the authority to say that something is legal when it is illegal—even if I wanted to. … Marijuana is illegal in the United States—even in Colorado, California, and everywhere else in America.”
Gardner and Sessions met last month, but the two continue to disagree.
“I reiterated my concern that states’ rights were being infringed on through this action and we agreed to continue talks,” Gardner said after that meeting with Sessions, on Jan. 10. “I also hope to expand these discussions with the Justice Department to include several of my Democrat and Republican colleagues about what steps can be taken legislatively to protect Colorado’s rights.”