Marijuana crackdown might backfire, officials say

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Changing perceptions of marijuana and possible job and tax money losses could thwart Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plans to crack down on the drug, two former U.S. attorneys said Thursday at a pro-marijuana gathering in Aspen.

“Nothing gets you unelected quicker than people losing jobs,” said Bill Nettles, former U.S. attorney for South Carolina. “Putting people out of work is bad politics.”

Nettles, who left his post a year ago, and Barry Grissom, who left his job as U.S. attorney in Kansas in April 2016, spoke Thursday at a legal seminar put on by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws at The Gant.

Republicans like to talk about job creation, but if a threatened crackdown on states that have legalized recreational marijuana starts to eliminate jobs then Sessions and President Donald Trump could have a problem, Nettles said. Same thing goes for a reduction in tax money for a state like Colorado, he said.

“[Losing jobs and tax money] is an argument that’s persuasive to them,” Nettles said. “You lose 120,000 jobs in one jobs report, that’s big.”

Grissom called Sessions’ plans to crack down on recreational marijuana and his recent direction to prosecute offenders to the maximum legal level a “dumb on crime” policy.

“I’ll be kind,” Grissom said. “He’s a blowhard. He’s the things we hated about U.S. attorneys.

“He loved the power when he was [U.S. attorney] in Alabama.”

Grissom said he believes there’s been a “sea change” in the way at least some of law enforcement views marijuana. As evidence of that, Grissom pointed to the November legalization of medical marijuana in North Dakota, Florida and Arkansas, three states handily carried by Trump.

“That tells me there’s more out there than meets the eye,” he said.

South Carolina recently legalized industrial hemp, and Nettles said he’s hoping to prompt the legalization of medical marijuana in the state in the next two years. Such a move would help children with seizure disorders, people with on-the-job injuries that might otherwise become addicted to opioids and the large number of veterans in the state dealing with traumatic war-related issues, he said.

If that happens, Nettles said he hopes it might prompt other states to follow suit.

“If we get it down in South Carolina and y’all don’t have it in y’all’s state?” he said.

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