Here’s where attorney general Jeff Sessions stands on legal marijuana

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Attorney general Jeff Sessions.
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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

After a contentious confirmation battle, the Senate confirmed Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as President Donald Trump’s attorney general Wednesday evening.

As the head of the Department of Justice, Sessions will now have to define how the federal government will approach marijuana.

A landslide of states voted to legalize recreational and medical marijuana on Election Day and 60% of Americans favor outright legalization, according to a recent Gallup poll.

It remains to be seen how Sessions will handle the nascent marijuana industry.

In written responses to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing, Sessions indicated that he would “review and evaluate” the Cole Memorandum, which stipulates that the federal government will not interfere in states’ decision to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana to adults.

In addition, he said that he would commit to enforcing federal laws regarding marijuana, like his predecessor, Loretta Lynch, “…although the exact balance of enforcement priorities is an ever-changing determination based on the circumstances and the resources available at the time,” Sessions added.

Though Sessions does not support rescheduling marijuana or legalizing it at the federal level, his thinking seems to have evolved on the issue over the past year.

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Whatever the Trump Administration decides, it will have a huge impact on the marijuana industry.
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Rena Schild/Shutterstock

In a Senate hearing last year on marijuana reform, Sessions said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He also pointed to the tenuous theory that marijuana is a gateway drug, and said that, “you’ll see cocaine and heroin increase more than it would have.”

“We need grown ups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” Sessions said at the hearing.

Sessions later clarified in his written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions that his previous words were “grossly mischaracterized.” He said he was “discussing the value of treating people for using dangerous and illegal drugs like marijuana.”

Sessions also slammed President Obama during a hearing last year for admitting to smoking marijuana in high school:

“You can’t have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink, saying I used marijuana when I was in high school and it is no different than smoking. It is different. And you are sending a message to young people that there is no danger in this process. It is false that marijuana use doesn’t lead people to more drug use. It is already causing a disturbance in the States that have made it legal. I think we need to be careful about this.”

Perhaps most infamously, Sessions joked in 1986 that the Klu Klux Klan – an openly racist white nationalist group – was “O.K. until I found out they smoked pot.”

Trump hasn’t taken a firm position on the issue. The president has wavered between supporting medical marijuana, to calling the rollout of Colorado’s regulated industry a “real problem.” The president has appeared to indicate that he’ll let states lead the charge on legalizing and regulating the plant.