Radio personality Hugh Hewitt lobbied U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a federal crackdown on legal marijuana businesses during a Thursday morning interview.
During the 14-minute interview, Hewitt asked Sessions pointed questions about marijuana enforcement, and probed him about specific methods to prosecute businesses in states that have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.
“Let me turn to marijuana,” said Hewitt, several minutes into their conversation. “A lot of states are just simply breaking the law. And a lot of money is being made and banked. One RICO prosecution of one producer and the banks that service them would shut this all down. Is such a prosecution going to happen?”
Sessions replied, “I don’t know that one prosecution would be quite as effective as that… I do not believe there’s any argument that because a state legalized marijuana, that the federal law against marijuana is no longer in existence. I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states. And we will do our best to enforce the laws as we’re required to do so.”
RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, allows for private individuals to sue “racketeers” who allegedly damage a business or property.
A June ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver remanded a RICO case to district court, leaving the door open for private-property owners to potentially bring federal racketeering claims against neighboring marijuana grows and dispensaries, legal analysts have told The Cannabist.
The plaintiff in the case was Safe Streets Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-drug and anti-crime organization that took up the cause of Michael P. Reilly and Phillis Windy Hope Reilly, the owners of a ranch near Pueblo, Colo. The couple claimed the smell of federally illegal marijuana wafting on to their property from a nearby cultivation facility damaged property values.
“This is basically a road map for people who own property that is near (a marijuana facility) … for how to bring a federal suit to get relief,” Safe Streets Alliance attorney Brian W. Barnes told The Cannabist in June.
This is not the first time that Hewitt has pushed Sessions on the question of applying the RICO Act. In March, in an interview on the show, he asked Sessions whether he would apply RICO to “end this facade and the flaunting of the Supremacy Clause.”
Sessions’ March answer was similar to his position today: “We will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide… I think it’s a little more complicated than one RICO case.”
On Thursday, Hewitt suggested the Justice Department could invoke the Supremacy Clause, saying, “One prosecution that invokes Supremacy Clause against one large dope manufacturing concern, and follows the money as it normally would in any drug operation and seizes it, would shut, would chill all of this. But I haven’t seen one in nine months, yet. Is one coming?”
The idea of federal preemption of state law is based on the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2), which states that the Constitution “shall be the supreme law of the land.”
In Colorado’s June RICO case, the court didn’t rule on whether the Supremacy Clause would indeed preempt Colorado’s marijuana laws and other state-enacted legal cannabis statues, but rather that private citizens in this case didn’t have the appropriate standing to raise those claims, a legal analyst told The Cananbist.
Sessions responded to Hewitt’s question about the Supremacy Clause, saying: “I can’t comment on the existence of an investigation at this time, Hugh, you know that.”
In recent months, Sessions has sent letters to the first four states to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. In each letter, Sessions referred to regional and state data depicting serious public health and safety issues arising from marijuana legalization. He also raised questions about the efficacy of their respective marijuana regulatory systems in preventing black market grows and inter-state trafficking. He asked the governors of each state to inform him of their efforts to curtail these issues.
Sessions closed out the topic of marijuana with Hewitt by saying, “I hear you. You’re making a suggestion. I hear it.”
Hewitt admitted, “I’m lobbying.”
Sessions laughingly agreed, “You’re lobbying.”
Listen to the full interview:
Cannabist reporter Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.