There are few who would deny the Trump administration’s policies are perhaps the most retrograde since 1497 when the mad Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola failed in his attempt to roll back the vital cultural advancements driven by The Renaissance by ceremoniously burning secular temptations such as books, paintings, playing cards, cosmetics, and fine clothing.
But even Savonarola would roll his eyes U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ misguided attempt to restrict the burgeoning cannabis industry, by unleashing federal prosecutors on the multibillion-dollar industry that has made astonishing advancements in the treatment of medical aliments, created thousands of jobs, and is expected to generate billions in revenue. In his memo to U.S. attorneys, Sessions’ tone is reminiscent of the first federal drug czar Harry J. Anslinger’s baseless rants against cannabis in the 1930s and 1940s. Sessions’ memo undid the polices of President Barack Obama, which allowed the new industry to gain public support and establish a foothold in the U.S. economy.
“It’s the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law,” Sessions states in his Jan. 4 memo. Sessions’ called for enforcement that “reflect Congress’ determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”
It was no surprise that Sessions’ backward policy drew fire most notably from fellow Republicans who felt betrayed by him, because he said during his confirmation hearings that he would not change the Justice Department’s policies towards the cannabis industry.
One of the loudest detractors was GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, a state where voters approved a ballot measure that legalized recreational use of cannabis and created a billion-dollar industry. Gardner, who has rarely broken ranks with President Trump, said Sessions’ memo was tantamount to a betrayal of his state. “I am obligated to the people of Colorado to take all steps necessary to protect the state of Colorado and their rights,” Gardner said.
As if a dam burst, other Republicans chimed in to criticize the policy. Sen. Lisa Murkowsky of Alaska called the memo “unfortunate and disruptive.” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a staunch Trump ally, said the decision would be harmful to cancer patients, some of them children, in his state. Gaetz said Mr. Sessions was “heartless and cold, and shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproved dogma instead of the will of the American people. He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients.”
When backwards leaders, such as Sessions and Savonarola, attempt to roll the public back into darkness and ignorance, they usually fail, and they themselves end up on a scrap heap or are otherwise defenestrated. Savonarola failed to roll back the Renaissance and instead found himself excommunicated and burned at the stake in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Sessions won’t face that kind of public anger, but one thing is clear, his outdated attempt to suppress the cannabis industry will no doubt fail just as the larger drug war has been a disaster that made government look incompetent and cost taxpayers billions in treasure while achieving nothing.