Ed flagged Gardner’s tweets about this earlier, but tweeting is one thing and televised speeches on the Senate floor are another. Watch the clip below, taking in Gardner’s palpable annoyance, then remind yourself that he’s anti-legalization. His home state of Colorado voted yes but he stood opposed. He agrees with Jeff Sessions on the merits. Either he’s a passionate supporter of federalism or he’s a man keenly aware of the fact that he’s a Republican representing a purple state that broke for Hillary Clinton and will face the voters again just three years from now. A little of both, probably.
He’s also a man betrayed. Gardner came under pressure at home when Sessions was nominated as AG not to vote for his confirmation because Sessions is a drug warrior who would attempt to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in Colorado despite the state having legalized it. Gardner did end up voting for him — but not before he got something by way of a guarantee from him on weed:
Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, where marijuana production and distribution has become an established industry, spoke with Sessions before his confirmation about the business in his state and was assured there will be no sudden changes in policy.
“That was the take-away from my conversation with Jeff,” Gardner said. “It’s not a priority of the Trump administration.”
Turns out it is a priority of the Trump administration. Now Gardner’s stuck having to explain to annoyed swing voters in Colorado why people are being arrested by the DEA for pot by the man he helped install as Attorney General. Hence his hardball threat in the clip below to start blocking DOJ nominees from confirmation unless the new policy is reversed.
It’s a punt, essentially. Sessions is telling U.S. Attorneys that they’re no longer being instructed to deprioritize the enforcement of marijuana laws in states where it’s legal, but as to how vigorously those laws *should* be enforced — well, that’s up to them. They should use their own judgment. If the local U.S. Attorneys in Colorado decide they want to continue to look the other way at weed, it’s their call. And lo and behold:
DENVER (AP) – US attorney in Colorado: No change to marijuana enforcement despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions' shift on pot policy
— Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) January 4, 2018
Status quo. Everyone (well, mostly everyone) ends up happy. Sessions gets some “drug warrior” headlines to please social conservatives, U.S. Attorneys get to shrug and carry on as usual, and weed users in Colorado get to continue lighting up. The only losers in the deal are the people who live in districts where, uh, the local U.S. Attorney is also a drug warrior in the Sessions or Chris Christie mold. That person may soon find himself locked up by the feds even though his state government says it’s okay to smoke.
But if and when that happens, even that phenomenon might not last long. Here’s what Gallup found when it asked about legalization three months ago:
Those are the numbers nationally, not just in pro-legalization enclaves like Colorado and California. And bear in mind, the share of Americans who think the feds should back off on marijuana prohibition in states where the drug is legal is always, always higher than the share who support legalizing the drug themselves. Quinnipiac found no less than 71 percent in favor of the feds respecting state law when it polled the question back in February. Sessions’s decision will be broadly unpopular (although most will forget about it in due course if in fact U.S. Attorneys don’t change prosecution patterns because of it). How do you think Trump’s going to react if this ends up as an albatross for him in Colorado in 2020? He can afford not to care about enforcement practices in deep blue states like California but he has no choice but to care about them in purple ones. Let that be a lesson to pro-legalization purple-staters: The more successful you are at changing the rules in your backyard, the greater the electoral risk to the White House from interfering.
Still, Gardner needs to put on a show of opposition for his constituents, so here he is. And note that he doesn’t spare Trump, mentioning him specifically as having said in the past that he too thinks state law should be followed. That’s the second time Gardner, the head of the NRSC, has broken sharply with POTUS in the past two months; he also called on Roy Moore to quit the Alabama race after the scandal stories began emerging and went so far as to say he should be expelled from the Senate even if he won.
.@SenCoryGardner on Attorney General Jeff Sessions' #marijuana policy change: "I will be holding all nominations for the Department of Justice. The people of Colorado deserve answers." pic.twitter.com/BnVEkA54ag
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 4, 2018