Jeff Sessions ought to butt out of marijuana enforcement, and focus on what matters

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions. AP

At every turn, Republican Party leaders claim to believe in the right of people to make their own decisions and of states’ rights to govern themselves.

And yet this week, President Donald Trump’s administration, implementing its skewed vision of Republican ideals, trashed that concept.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to open more coastline to oil drilling, a political third rail in California since the devastating Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, as many Republicans have come to understand.

At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama administration policy that restricted federal enforcement of marijuana laws. Sessions’ hopes federal prosecutors once again will bring criminal cases involving cannabis, overriding the will of people in California, Colorado and 27 other states where marijuana is legal in one form or another.

This came after Thomas Homan, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gave an interview in which he made a nutty call for criminal prosecution of duly elected California officials who refuse to help the feds enforce broken immigration laws.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, one such official, told The Sacramento Bee’s Anita Chabria: “They certainly know where to find me.” Our money would be on Steinberg in any legal showdown with the windy Homan.

All this might be understandable if the GOP espoused the supremacy of the federal government over the states. But it doesn’t. The Republican National Committee’s 2016 platform, on which Trump ran, extols the 10th Amendment. That’s the one that grants to states all constitutional power not reserved by Uncle Sam.

“Every violation of state sovereignty by federal officials is not merely a transgression of one unit of government against another; it is an assault on the liberties of individual Americans,” the platform solemnly declares.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an Orange County Republican, has used marijuana to ease arthritis pain, and supported Proposition 64, the 2016 initiative that legalized the commercial sale of marijuana. On Thursday, he denounced Sessions on 10th Amendment grounds: “How ironic that the attorney general has long championed states’ rights when it suits other parts of his agenda.”

We hope Sessions relents. But if he doesn’t, the U.S. Senate should elicit commitments from Trump’s nominees for U.S. attorneys that they will be highly selective in any prosecutions involving marijuana. That would include Sacramento attorney McGregor Scott, who awaits confirmation to become U.S. attorney for the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California.

Although we didn’t endorse Proposition 64, it passed with 57 percent of the vote. There’s no constitutional prohibition against marijuana use, and federal statutes, which place weed in the same category as heroin, are as unrealistic as Sessions’ attempt to turn back the clock.

Similarly, coastal states ought to have the right to control what happens in their waters. Gov. Jerry Brown, in partnership with Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and Kate Brown of Oregon, denounced the proposal to open the coast to more drilling: “For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action.”

The California State Lands Commission recently passed a regulation intended to foil any attempts to expand offshore drilling by prohibiting the processing of oil extracted from of California’s coast. That, too, should be within a state’s prerogative.

“Certainly, the irony is not lost on us,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Lands Commission member and the most prominent backer of Proposition 64, told an editorial board member. “The assault on states’ rights is pretty extraordinary.”

Instead of busting people for weed, the administration could combat deadly opioids. Instead of trying to drill for more petroleum, the administration could promote green alternatives. And it could fix the broken immigration system. True, all that would be hard. But it’s not too late to focus on issues that matter.