Willie Nelson to Jeff Sessions: Don’t knock it until you tried it

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues his crusade to bring back the worst aspects of the failed War on Drugs, country music superstar Willie Nelson has a little advice for the nation’s top cop.

Nelson, during a question and answer interview with Rolling Stone, said Sessions would probably realize he’s exaggerating when he claims marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin if he tried both drugs.

“I wonder if he’s tried both of them. I don’t think you can really make a statement like that unless you tried it all,” the 84-year-old country “outlaw” said. “So I’d like to suggest to Jeff to try it and then let me know later if he thinks he’s still telling the truth!”

Nelson is a longtime marijuana advocate who has had his share of run-ins with law enforcement officials over his personal drug use. But the singer says his use of the drug over the years has played a part in his longevity, helping him kick habits with more deleterious health effects.

Nelson told The Cannabist last year: “It’s medicine, and it’s already been proven to be medicine. End of story.”

He added: “I had emphysema, had all kinds of different health problems caused by drinking and smoking … So I decided I wasn’t getting high from smoking cigarettes, and I had a pack of Chesterfields, so I took them all out, threw them away, rolled up 20 big, fat numbers, stuck them into the Chesterfield pack and I haven’t smoked a cigarette since. And that’s been 30, 40 years ago.”

Nelson’s daily marijuana habit probably isn’t advisable for the average person—but the singer’s suggestion that marijuana use can be less harmful than the use of other, perfectly legal, substances is a view widely held by reform advocates.

It’s also opposite the thinking of the Sessions DOJ, which insists that the unproven description of marijuana as a “gateway” to harder drugs like crack and heroin is accurate.

Since taking over the Justice Department, Sessions has been widely criticized by marijuana and states’ rights advocates for hinting that he intends to ramp up federal law enforcement operations against marijuana sellers in states where the drug is legal for recreational and medical use.

Earlier this year, Sessions ordered DOJ officials to review the Cole Memorandum, a set of 2013 guidelines key to keeping federal drug enforcers from harassing marijuana businesses and users in legal pot states. The Cole Memo, along with FinCEN guidelines adopted under the Obama administration, were heralded as the end of aggressive federal marijuana enforcement efforts that would allow state legalization experiments to run their course.

Governors of legal marijuana states have pleaded with the AG to re-think his decision, noting that the Obama-era reforms provide the framework by which they regulate what has grown into a legal marijuana industry worth billions.

Still, the Justice Department persists in its efforts to ensure that harsh federal drug policies trump any state reforms.

In a more recent move, Sessions ordered the reversal of an Obama-era policy designed to give judges and prosecutors more leeway to ignore draconian mandatory minimum guidelines in cases involving low-level drug offenders. The Sessions Justice Department is ordering courts to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” Sessions also decreed that prosecutors who in “good judgement” determine that “a strict application of the … charging policy is not warranted” should seek the approval of a U.S. Attorney or AG before applying leniency in a case.

The move has earned the AG bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill at a time when the Trump administration certainly can’t afford to lose many friends in Congress.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who supported Sessions’ confirmation, is working with Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy on an effort to enact legislation that would reinstate judicial discretion in cases currently bound to mandatory minimum requirements.

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