Highlights From DPA Teleconference After Confirmation Hearings For Senator Jeff Sessions

DPA

On January 12, the Drug Policy Alliance hosted a press teleconference with speakers from a broad spectrum of organizations who shared strong concerns that, if confirmed, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General would expand mass criminalization and drug war policies that will put communities at risk and intensify the marginalization and stigmatization of Muslims, immigrants and others. In the Senate, Sessions has been the chief opponent of recent bipartisan efforts to reduce sentences for drug offenses and has a long track record of opposition to marijuana reform – even for medical use.

The following are highlighted quotes from each of the speakers who presented on the call. The full audio from the press teleconference is available here.

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NATASHA LYCIA ORA BANNON, Associate Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF – “We know that Sessions has expressed his opposition to drug policy reform including at the local level and instead – and incredulously – encourages the expansion of the globally recognized failure that is known as the war on drugs. And we know for our community and for the Latino community that this could easily mean enhanced prosecution for low level drug offenses like marijuana possession could turn into deportation for non-citizens and can have devastating and disastrous consequences on their lives and the lives of their families…He’s called leading civil rights groups un-American in a really twisted understanding of what it means to be American and to respect the rule of law, and that combined with his anti-immigrant sentiment, leads to concerns about who else or what else could be determined to be un-American or behave in ‘un-American ways.'”

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JONATHAN BLANKS, Managing Editor, PoliceMisconduct.net, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute – “More than half the states have legalized some sort of marijuana use whether it’s medical or for recreational use and there was nothing in the (Sessions’ confirmation) hearing that leads us to believe that Sessions’ views on marijuana will be any better than they have been in the past….I think the “best” case scenario is that Attorney General Sessions will roll back the executive memos from the Obama administration which encouraged U.S. Attorneys to tolerate marijuana dispensaries that were operating under state legally under state law. Such a roll back would allow U.S. attorneys free rein to prosecute any violation of federal marijuana laws. This could lead to arbitrary enforcement in different places which is not good for licit marijuana businesses or the patients that benefit from these businesses…. Civil asset forfeiture is a process that is widely questioned on both sides of the aisle but this is something that Sen. Sessions still supports. I fear that asset forfeiture could be expanded and the funds from that could be used to pressure the so-called sanctuary cities into enforcing federal immigration laws and other federal priorities.”  The Cato Institute does not take a position on nominees or on whether to provide an up or down vote.

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PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW, Founder and National President, The Ordinary People Society, Dothan, Alabama – “I got to meet with Jeff Sessions and he had came down here and was speaking to the point that we don’t need that kind of image for Alabama…(he was referring to the fact that I was advocating in the national media that) …ex-felons in Alabama should be able to vote… so I … confronted him and I asked him I said are you a Christian? He said emphatically yes. I said do you believe in redemption? Emphatically again yes. I said then how could you say that people who have done their time don’t deserve to get their voting rights. He said that I believe in redemption, I believe they can redeem themselves in prison but that they need to stay in prison. This is the type of attitude that we don’t need out here…..What Jeff Sessions stands for as Attorney General in America would put a big rebel flag stamp on America saying that America is racist because we have an Attorney General whose voting practices are policies that are against minorities and black people especially…Now the rest of America will know what we go through in the South.”

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NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY, Director and Counsel, Washington, D.C. office, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law – “When Senator Sessions served as U.S. attorney for the seventh district of Alabama, 40 percent of his convictions were for drug related crimes. That is double the rate of other Alabama federal prosecutors. Today, state and federal law enforcement officers focus resources on violent crime and away from what we consider to be archaic drug war policies. Despite this, Senator Sessions continues to oppose any attempt to legalize marijuana and any reduction in drug sentences. …These views place him at odds with top Republicans and the current cross-partisan movement to reform the justice system. As Attorney General, we are concerned he could stall or reverse recent federal efforts and disrupt nationwide momentum on the issue of criminal justice reform.”  The Brennan Center does not take an official position on nominees.

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ROBERT MCCAW, Director of Government Affairs Department, Council on American Islamic Relations – “Sessions’ support for indefinitely detaining Americans connected to foreign terrorist networks means that we could possibly see Americans one day being housed in Guantanamo under the Trump Administration. CAIR believes that if a person in U.S. custody is guilty of crimes against our nation or international partners then we deserve justice not delays.  If prisoners in U.S. custody are innocent and cannot be charged then we must release them…We are also deeply concerned of whether he will press federal hate crime charges against those who would attack or assault the Muslim community…”

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ALISON PARKER, Director, US Program, Human Rights Watch – “Human Rights Watch opposes the confirmation of Senator Sessions. This is a move that is extremely rare in the history of our organization and is a strong signal indicating our very deep concerns about Senator Sessions’s record. …our own research shows that every twenty five seconds someone is arrested for drug possession in this country, making it the most arrested offense. This takes precious law enforcement resources away from real public safety concerns. Despite all of this Sessions has criticized past attorneys general for not vigorously enforcing federal laws prohibiting marijuana in states that have legalized the drug, and in response to questions from Senators in his confirmation hearing he was clear that federal law makes marijuana possession and distribution a crime and that he would enforce that law. He said if there was a problem with federal law Congress should change it. We believe all of this gives rise to a need to oppose Senator Sessions.”

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BILL PIPER, Senior Director, Office of National Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance – “In my twenty five years in Washington I’ve never seen this much opposition to a nominee, and I think this intense criticism of Sessions speaks to the existential threat he poses. I am personally very worried that Sessions will escalate the war on drugs and increase mass incarceration…On what he would do about states that have reformed their marijuana laws, he gave a wishy-washy non-answer that provides little comfort to medical marijuana patients, state officials and others. And I think it’s very disappointing that Senators didn’t push him more on marijuana because 18 Senators on the committee represent a state that has reformed their marijuana law in recent years, and given Sessions’ record on this issue, a vote for Sessions is a vote against their own state.”

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BENARD SIMELTON SR., President of Alabama State Conference of the NAACP – “The Attorney General must be one who will protect the citizens against abuse of law enforcement officers across the board. In 2016, there were more than 250 African Americans, or 34 percent of the approximately 963 individuals that were killed by police officers were African Americans… (but) it does not appear that Senator Sessions as Attorney General would be one who utilize his resources to thoroughly investigate these cases… (including) in his own state of Alabama…Senator Sessions has not made himself available to meet with the NAACP on at least two occasions when we came to his office in D.C. and yes we staged a sit-in his office in Mobile on January 3 and we were arrested because of trespassing.  We believe it was the right thing to do. And we are willing to do it again.”

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Johnny Green
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Johnny Green is a cannabis activist from Oregon. Johnny has a bachelor’s degree in public policy, and believes that the message should always be more important than the messenger. #LegalizeIt #FreeThePlant