The Columbian / Associated Press

Pot industry sets its sights on Sessions

WASHINGTON — Backers of marijuana legalization on Monday stepped up their pressure on the U.S. Senate to block the confirmation of Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general.

Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalization, angered proponents in April when he called pot “dangerous” and said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Marijuana backers want the issue aired today when the Senate Judiciary Committee begins Sessions’ confirmation hearing.

“It’s a national thing: This hearing is make or break for the marijuana folks,” said Adam Eidinger, who heads a pro-legalization group in Washington, D.C., called DCMJ.

The hearing comes amid an explosion of support for legal marijuana in the past year, with nearly a quarter of all Americans now living in states that allow use of the drug for recreation.

Marijuana won big in the Nov. 8 election, with voters passing ballot measures to ease marijuana restrictions in eight of nine states, including California.

As a result, eight states now have approved recreational marijuana, led by Washington and Colorado, where legalization plans first passed in 2012. Twenty-eight states allow the drug to be used as medicine.

Marijuana backers are confident that more states will follow suit, with the most recent Gallup poll showing a record high 60 percent backing legalization.

As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump said he would leave the question of legalization to the states, following the lead of President Barack Obama.

But Trump’s selection of Sessions has many marijuana advocates worried, given the senator’s long history of opposition to any form of legalization.

In a speech on the Senate floor last year, Sessions criticized Obama as not tough enough on marijuana, saying the U.S. could be at the beginning of “another surge in drug use like we saw in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said Sessions’ views “are out of step with mainstream America” and in conflict with many state laws.

“We must demand that senators on the Judiciary Committee ask this nominee whether he intends to respect the will of the voters in these states and whether he truly believes that no ‘good people’ have ever smoked pot,” he said. “If he truly believes such outdated ‘Reefer Madness’ rhetoric, then he should not be the next attorney general.”