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How Scared Should California Stoners Be About Jeff Sessions And Legal Weed?

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Jeff Sessions. (Getty)

The world as we know it may be ending*, but at least Californians can still roll a fat blunt and smoke themselves into a pre-election state of oblivion, right? Well, for now. Legal marijuana advocates and cannabis enthusiasts around the country are, in scientific terms, freaking the fuck out over President-elect Donald Trump's decision to nominate Senator Jeff Sessions as our next Attorney General.

Although marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law, more than half of all states have legalized medical marijuana, and here in the People's Republic of California, sun-dappled citizens voted (along with residents of three other states) to legalize recreational marijuana last Election Day. So, what does that mean for enforcement? You wouldn't be paranoid for thinking this all sounds confusing, but it's actually pretty simple: the Justice Department issued a memo in 2013 essentially saying that they'd take a backseat approach on enforcement and leave it to the states, as long as said states enacted and enforced strict restrictions. President-elect Donald Trump has previously stated that he would continue to defer to the states on the issue of legal weed. But now, just as the legal weed industry is hitting gold rush strides, the potential appointment of Sessions as AG could throw everything for a loop.

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The staunchly conservative Alabama senator went into full-on 1980s-era After School Special mode as recently as this April, when he told a Senate hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Buzzfeed reports that legal marijuana advocates fear that the longtime federal prosecutor "might dismantle legalization efforts and disrupt the drug’s new, billion-dollar industry."

Mr. Sessions also once famously joked that he was fine with the Ku Klux Klan “until I found out they smoked pot.” What a time to be an American!

Activists call on senate to reject Jeff Sessions as Attorney General on November 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Getty)

“There are a lot of people who are kind of running around and saying everything is fucked, and then some people who are trying to say everything’s totally fine,” Tom Angell, founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told Buzzfeed, adding that, in his view, the reality will fall somewhere in between. " “I think we have a lot of good ammunition to hold the President-elect to his word, but there are going to be people in influential positions trying to get him to go back on that," Angell said.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told Vice News that the decision to nominate Sessions means “there’s going to be some real confusion about what the administration’s position is” on marijuana. “In a new administration, all it would take is one Justice Department memo for businesses that follow the law in their states to become targets of raids and prosecutions,” Wyden added.

"I understand that Sessions comes from a culture and a background that led him to make the statement that all marijuana smokers or users are bad people. I think that's the most devastating quote that I've heard," Stewart Richlin, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who runs the firm 420 Law Office and specializes in marijuana law, told LAist. "But, at the same time, President-elect Trump stated very clearly that his perspective was that medical marijuana should be universally available and that as far as social or recreational marijuana goes, that should be state-by-state," Richlin said.

"I'm hoping that Sessions will follow his new boss's tone and not interfere with medical marijuana or social marijuana," Richlin said, also criticizing the Obama administration as not having "done enough" on the issue of marijuana legalization. "What we wound up with was a very sketchy situation and that's why people are especially worried," Richlin said. "In other words, [under Obama] Congress didn't take the substance off of Schedule I, they just defunded enforcement in certain states in their budget, which is sort of a temporary—not a permanent fix—of the current scheduling of marijuana, federally. All Obama really did was instruct his Justice Department to make enforcement a low priority."

"As it's written, the laws say that the federal government has the ability to preempt [state law]. Right now, state marijuana is precarious, in that the structure of our laws is that there's a supremacy of federal law when it comes to certain topics [like marijuana]."

*Would we call this a bang or a whimper? Too soon to tell!

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