In medical marijuana news: a new drive-thru is opening in Arizona. While it may not be the nation’s first, for marijuana activists it’s a reason to celebrate in uncertain times.

Medical marijuana has entered the fast-lane and now if you live in Arizona you can buy your weed without leaving your car. All Greens Dispensary in Sun City, Arizona is opening Arizona’s first ever state approved medical marijuana drive-thru on Friday, October 27th. All Greens may be Arizona’s first drive through marijuana dispensary but it’s not the nation’s first (drive -thrus already exist in Colorado and Oregon). While marijuana activists in Arizona pause to celebrate on Friday, Jeff Sessions still looms as a threat to the industry even if he takes up the fight alone.

Jeff Sessions appointment creates uncertainty in the marijuana industry.

sessions medical marijuana

While meeting victims of the opioid crisis, a St. Louis family whose son died of a heroin overdose gave Attorney General Sessions a “ stop heroin” wrist band. Photo Credit FBI via Wikimedia Commons

Since the appointment of Jeff Sessions to U.S. Attorney General the marijuana industry’s future has been on shaky ground. A hallmark of Sessions’ career is his anti-marijuana stance. He once joked that he thought the KKK was ok until he learned they smoked pot. Last September, at a press conference in San Diego where the U.S. Coast Guard announced the seizure of over 50,000 pounds of cocaine, Sessions reaffirmed his anti-marijuana stance.

“I’ve never felt that we should legalize marijuana,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t strike me that the country would be better if it’s being sold on every street corner. We do know that legalization results in greater use.”

What the studies say about marijuana.

Note, multiple studies disprove Sessions’ allegation that legalization results in greater use. One study, by Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group, released in early September 2017 in the journal Addiction found legalization did not lead to increased use. Instead, they found the rise in marijuana use is “attributable to general period effects not specifically linked to the liberalization of marijuana policies.” Period effects are general changes in society across age and generations. The study cites the decreased disapproval of marijuana as one such period effect.

The Colorado Department of Health also found no change in teenager’s use of marijuana since pot became legalized in 2012. That study found that in 2009, before Colorado legalized pot, twenty-five percent of teenagers had used marijuana in the past thirty days. In 2015, after Colorado legalized pot, the study found twenty-one percent of teenagers had used pot in the last thirty days.

Jeff Sessions would tell you marijuana legalization is linked to increased crime. Despite Sessions’ claim, many studies, including an FBI study, found no link between an increase in violent crime and marijuana legalization. In fact at least one study found that marijuana usage lead to decreased opioid usage. Such results are especially noteworthy given the nation’s current opioid problem.

Marijuana linked to increased car crashes?

Some studies have claimed a link between marijuana usage and an increase in fatal car crashes. A HLDI (Highway Loss Data Institute) study found a 3 percent increase in the frequency of collision claims in Colorado, Oregon and Washington associated with the advent of retail marijuana sales. HLDI also notes that a University of Texas at Austin study found an “increase in fatal crashes in two states with legalized recreational marijuana use, although the results weren’t significant.” HLDI argues the increase that UT-Austin found is significant and the increase is in line with their findings. Others dispute HLDI’s claims.

Sessions once advocated for the death penalty for marijuana dealers.

Jeff Sessions may have scaled back from his days of advocating for the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for marijuana dealers, but he’s no friend to marijuana. Yes, according to an article by Salon, Sessions once promoted a bill that would establish mandatory death sentences for a second drug trafficking conviction, including for dealing marijuana. Salon explains the bill was presented as targeting drug ‘kingpins’, but in reality anyone leading a group of five or more people and making the minimum wage of $4.25/hour would qualify as a drug trafficker. The bill did not pass, but Sessions stance on the matter is well documented thanks to local Alabama papers and now resurfaced by Salon.

Medical marijuana news, the future of marijuana and medical marijuana.

Last April Sessions directed the Justice Department to review Obama era guidelines that allowed states to pursue their own policies regarding marijuana legalization. Under Obama guidelines laid out in the Cole Memo allowed states to set their own marijuana laws as long as the guidelines were followed. However, according to the Associated Press, the task force came up with “no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views.”

The chance that Jeff Sessions will lay off medical marijuana is slim. Some of the biggest opponents to legalizing medical marijuana are the tobacco and private prison industry. Jeff Sessions has ties to both. Sessions’ positions his anti-marijuana stance out of concern for the public well-being, yet Sessions spent the better part of his career in the 90’s and early 2000’s fighting on behalf of big tobacco. An Herb article documents Sessions cozy relationship with the tobacco industry. According to them Sessions repeatedly advocated against bringing tobacco under FDA regulation. At one point he proposed a bill that would limit how much money lawyers could earn in tobacco lawsuits, an effort to stem the tide of lawsuits aimed at the tobacco industry. Big tobacco is anti-marijuana because studies have shown that marijuana usage leads to decreased tobacco use. Old friends are not easily forgotten.

The private prison industry took a fancy to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions last year. In August of 2016, Obama announced his plan to phase out private prisons. The day after, GEO Group, one of the largest private prisons, donated $100,000 to a Donald Trump super PAC. Months later, GEO Group and another private prison company, Core Civic, each gave $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration festivities. The Daily Beast also reports a subsidiary of GEO Group gave $225,000 to a super PAC run by the Mercer family. The Mercers are considered to be influential Trump donors. A lawsuit now argues that GEO Group received a $110 million dollar government contract in April of 2017 as thanks for their Trump donations. GEO Group also received two ten-year government contracts that Newsweek reports are expected to earn the company $664 million.

GEO Group further increased their influence with the Trump administration by hiring two former aides of Jeff Sessions to lobby for government contracts. The for-profit prison industry naturally likes prisoners and they’re likely to try and wield their influence to nudge, Trump and Sessions, in the direction of anti-marijuana legislation.

Congress and marijuana.

Matt Gaetz

Matt Gaetz By Florida House of Representatives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Congress, however, isn’t as sold on the anti-marijuana stance. Congress seems more aware of the ninety-four percent of Americans that are in support of legalized medical marijuana.  A bi-partisan Congressional agreement to increase government spending and avoid a government shutdown gave Jeff Sessions $0 to go after states’ marijuana laws. As recently as early October, a Congressional committee held a debate on studying the potential use of medical marijuana by cops. The Bill’s sponsor, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) argued:

“The federal government has lied to the American people for a generation about cannabis… There is substantial evidence that indicates that there is a case to be made for the medical efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of mental health and particularly PTSD.”

So while Trump and Sessions may pursue an anti-medical marijuana agenda, Congress and the American people may leave them in a lurch. Remember, Trump, campaigned on a pro-medical marijuana stance and Trump supporters are likely part of the ninety-four percent of Americans who support medical marijuana. In the meantime marijuana legalization advocates will continue to march on and stop to celebrate every now and then.

If you’re in Arizona, join the All Greens Dispensary on Friday, October 27th from 5-10PM to celebrate the opening of their drive through. All Greens promises Free food, live music and drawings as well as special deals on their products.