While Arkansas’ Congressional delegation offered no comment or a wait-and-see attitude on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recent directive to enforce federal marijuana laws, many challengers to the current incumbents offered strong opinions in opposition to the Department of Justice leader’s latest move.
Five Democratic Congressional candidates for 2018 registered their opinions generally condemning Sessions’ move. One Republican primary challenger has yet to respond, but is expected to offer an opinion.
On Thursday, Sessions rescinded the Obama administration’s so-called COLE memo adopted by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in 2013, and said his department would return to the rule of law directed by Congress and follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities.
Arkansas is one of 29 states that now has some form of legalized marijuana, either medical or recreational. Arkansas voters passed a medical marijuana measure in November 2016 and it is currently being implemented by a state commission.
All five Democratic challengers for Congress – Chintan Desai, Gwen Combs, Paul Spencer, Joshua Mahony, and Hayden Shamel – provided statements to Talk Business & Politics. Third District Republican challenger Robb Ryerse was also contacted for a response. The statements are as follows:
Chintan Desai, Democrat for 1st Congressional District: “Attorney General Sessions’ continued effort to stigmatize marijuana and its users is a direct abuse of power and an affront to minorities targeted by stringent drug enforcement. Congress has a responsibility to recognize and uphold the laws set in place by state legislatures that protect citizens’ right to both medicinal and recreational marijuana.”
Gwen Combs, Democrat for 2nd Congressional District: “I stand with Arkansans in their decision to legalize medicinal marijuana. Jeff Sessions’ crackdown is insulting to the people of states that have passed similar measures. I would support an amendment such as the 2014 Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, which prohibits the DOJ from spending federal funds to enforce prohibition laws in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. Our efforts should be on ending the opioid epidemic, but this action by Sessions risks exacerbating it.”
Paul Spencer, Democrat for 2nd Congressional District: “Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions does have the constitutional authority to overrule state law, I believe that in this situation, he doesn’t have the moral authority. Arkansans voted to legalize medical marijuana, and whether one agrees or disagrees with state marijuana legislation, the People have spoken. The irony of a states’ rights advocate such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions whimsically nullifying the will of said states through the Federal system also cannot be overlooked.
“The real issues at hand that need to be addressed are serious racial incarceration injustices and drug violence that are ripping apart communities. Addressing the inadequacies of existing Federal marijuana law with the force of constitutional permanence is a better route to take rather than slapping unpopular bandaid amendments on a current law.”
Joshua Mahony, Democrat for 3rd Congressional District: “Arkansans recently voted to legalize medical marijuana and this overreach by the Trump administration threatens to thwart the will of the voters. I call on my opponent to support the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment which would protect states with voter-approved marijuana legalization from federal government interference.”
Hayden Shamel, Democrat for 4th Congressional District: “Arkansas voters have spoken on this issue. Our people are moving forward with an industry that has the potential to significantly improve our state’s economy and generate revenue that we desperately need. This decision disregards the will of the people of Arkansas.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was the only federal delegation member to not respond to a request for comment from Talk Business & Politics. Sara Lasure, spokeswoman for Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said, “It’s unclear what impact this would have on Arkansas. Senator Boozman is waiting to see the guidance issued by DOJ on this issue.”
“We are unclear about the effect it will have on Arkansas, so we’re going to hold off commenting for now,” noted James Arnold with the office of U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.
Declining comment on Session’s decision were the offices of U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock, Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
Talk Business & Politics will update this story with additional comments if they are received.