Pro-Marijuana Super PAC Targets Pete Sessions' House Seat (2)EXPAND
Roxana Gonzalez

Pro-Marijuana Super PAC Targets Pete Sessions' House Seat

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions' 32nd Congressional District seat is one the Democratic Party hopes to flip in November, and it's not alone. A pro-marijuana political action committee also wants Sessions out of his seat.

Sessions possesses a considerable amount of power in the House as an 11-term representative and the chairman of the House Committee on Rules, which sets the rules and original jurisdiction on legislative measures and can "do virtually anything during the course of consideration of a measure," according to the committee's website.

Sessions has used his position to take a hard stance against marijuana reform legislation. Sessions' most recent move as committee chairman blocked reform amendments that would allow cannabis businesses operating in legal states to access banks and file business expense tax deductions. He's also sponsored and co-sponsored several bills expressing his hard line on the subject, including the self-explanatory No Welfare for Weed Act of 2015. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gives Sessions an "F" rating.

“Across the country, families, businesses and our judicial system have seen the devastating impact of drug abuse," Sessions said in a statement released by his office last Thursday. "Even governors in states like California have expressed their concern about how we can continue to have a successful economy when we normalize drug use in our communities. I am firmly against allowing these merchants of addiction to infiltrate our communities and bring down our children and families. I understand the need to learn more about marijuana’s impact, which is why I have been consulting with the National Institute of Health about the dangerous effects of drug use."

Rob Kampia, the co-founder of the lobbying group Marijuana Policy Project who left in December to create the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, doesn't disguise his disgust for Sessions and the representative's attempts to block marijuana reform in Congress. He calls Sessions "the sphincter who's constantly blocking all of the marijuana amendments."

"We have to get rid of him to get our amendments to the floor of the House," Kampia says. "Once we get rid of him, I know we can get our amendments passed."

Kampia started a new super PAC focused on getting Sessions out of office in November. Kampia says his goal is to make his group "the NRA for marijuana."

Kampia's efforts may have some serious momentum. Although Sessions won 71.1 percent of the vote for his race in 2016, he did so without any Democratic opposition. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won a slim majority of votes over President Donald Trump in the congressional district by a margin of just under 2 percent.

"If Clinton could accidentally beat Trump by 2 percent in that district, and she wasn't even campaigning in Texas, and we weren't involved at all, what happens when we have a Democratic surge two years later and have a Democratic candidate in the district, and we have a super PAC in that district?" Kampia asks. "Certainly, that must all add up to something."

Most states also don't share Sessions' sentiments for the drug's legal classification and usage. Twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana use, nine have legalized recreational use and four more are scheduled to vote on some kind of legalization measure in the coming year. The Texas House even discussed several bills on the subject.

Public approval of marijuana legal reform is also clearly in the majority. Sixty-three percent of the country believes marijuana should be legal for recreational use, and 93 percent believes it should be legal for medical use, according to a recent poll that Quinnipac reported as the highest approval rating for marijuana legalization in the organization's history.

Collin Allred, one of two Democrats in the May 22 primary runoff to decide who will be Sessions' Democratic opponent, says he also disagrees with Sessions' stance against recreational or medical marijuana legalization.

"I support the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the habit-forming opioids that have become a national crisis," Allred said in a statement. "This common-sense approach to alternative treatments has been opposed by Pete Sessions, and is something I will fight to expand."

Kampia says Sessions' stubbornness to move on the issue mixed with the public and his opponent's changing sentiments on marijuana could give his group the momentum it needs to push Sessions out of the seat he's held since 1996.

"He's doing the work," Kampia says. "He's got an unbroken track record of being a terrible person, and he has the last name to go along with it. So I'm just passing the hat."

Attempts were made to contact Democratic candidate Lillian Salerno, Allred's runoff opponent, but a representative could not be reached for comment. (UPDATE: Salerno's campaign contacted the Observer after this story was published and offered a statement from Salerno: "The war on drugs did not work, period. I was on the opioid task force when I served in the Obama administration and I saw first hand all the damage done by decades of bad policy. Prosecution of marijuana related crimes is inherently racist. Marijuana should be legalized so we can better regulate its use, reap the economic benefits so all Texans benefit, and give much needed relief through the medical benefits to our veterans suffering from PTSD, children suffering from seizures, and others. "

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