Arkansas’ Congressional delegation mum on Sessions’ marijuana move, polls show growing support for the plant

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 574 views 

Although Arkansas’ Congressional delegation is declining comment, a growing number of Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate, and even Republican governors, disapprove of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions anti-marijuana move that raises uncertainty in the 29 states – including Arkansas – that have legalized the plant for various uses.

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorneys offices across the nation, Sessions on Thursday (Jan. 4) rescinded the Obama administration’s so-called COLE memo adopted by former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in 2013, and said his department would return to the rule of law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.

Talk Business & Politics asked the six members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation their opinion on Sessions’ decision, and about the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment now in Congress designed to protect states against federal interference with voter-approved marijuana legalization.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was the only member to not respond.

“It’s unclear what impact this would have on Arkansas. Senator Boozman is waiting to see the guidance issued by DOJ on this issue,” noted Sara Lasure, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

“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.

Also 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.

There was no response from any member of the delegation about the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. That amendment, in some legislative form since 2001, is pushed by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, and U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California and former press secretary for President Ronald Reagan. Both states legalized recreational marijuana use. In late November 66 members of the U.S. House and Senate sent a letter to leadership in both chambers asking for non-interference in states with medical marijuana laws. None of Arkansas’ six Congressional members signed the letter.

Rohrbacher was one of several Republicans to immediately respond to Sessions’ decision this week.

“The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels. By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself. He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is threatening to hold up Department of Justice nominations unless Sessions reverses his decision. Recreational marijuana use is also allowed in Colorado.

“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,” Gardner said.

Other Republicans opposing Sessions’ decision include U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Dean Heller of Nevada. Also opposing the DOJ policy change is Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas said the DOJ should focus on opioids instead of marijuana.

“This is federal government overreach at its most egregious. The people of Arkansas voted to make medical marijuana legal — end of story,” the party noted in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “Our congressional delegation and Governor Hutchinson must remind the administration of the power of local control. We call on our congressional delegation to support the re-authorization of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. The Justice Department should be devoting its resources to the very real opioid epidemic plaguing our country and state rather than doing the bidding of big pharmaceutical corporations at the expense of law-abiding Arkansans.”

A poll published Friday (Jan. 5) by the Pew Research Center found that 61% of survey respondents say all use of marijuana should be legalized, up from 57% a year ago. Only 31% of survey respondents in 2000 said marijuana should be legal.

Image from the Pew Research Center.

“As in the past, there are wide generational and partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization. Majorities of Millennials (70%), Gen Xers (66%) and Baby Boomers (56%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Only among the Silent Generation does a greater share oppose (58%) than favor (35%) marijuana legalization,” noted the Pew report on the survey.

Almost 70% of Democrats and 65% of independents support legalization. However, only 43% of Republicans support marijuana legalization. But generational fractures appear in Republican attitudes about marijuana.

“Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, those younger than 40 favor legalizing marijuana use, 62% to 38%. Republicans ages 40 to 64 are divided (48% say it should be legal, 49% illegal), while those 65 and older oppose marijuana legalization by more than two-to-one (67% to 30%),” noted the Pew report.

A Quinnipiac University poll published in April 2017 found that 60% of U.S. voters believe “the use of marijuana should be made legal.” It was the highest percentage of support ever recorded in a Quinnipiac poll. The poll also found that 94% of respondents endorsed legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, and 73% opposed federal interference in states that have legalized it.