Jeff Sessions (Credit: Getty/Mandel Ngan/Shutterstock/Photo montage by Salon)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday that he plans to spend his time in office cracking down on violent crime in the United States by taking a strict law-and-order approach to marijuana, which he argued is a gateway drug that leads to criminality.

President Donald Trump’s embattled choice to be the nation’s top cop called on law enforcement officials to revive the tough-on-crime policies that wrecked havoc on several communities throughout the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. During a speech in Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday which focused on ways to combat violent crime, Sessions said one of the steps to improving public safety is to ensure that citizens don’t start taking drugs in the first place.

“President Trump gave us a clear directive. It’s the policy of this administration to reduce crime in America,” he told gathered law enforcement officials.

In a shift from the decades-long states’ rights dogma championed by the former Alabama senator, Sessions said there is a need for federal involvement in ordinary crime-fighting. He also called for harsher sentences for criminals.

“The crime rate in our country remains at historic lows,” Sessions acknowledged in his remarks. “But we’re beginning to see an increase again,” he said, drawing a direct line from the nation’s opioid addiction crisis to violent crime — first beginning with marijuana.

Last month, Sessions claimed that “experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

Sessions conceded that his antiquated views on marijuana might be “unfashionable” on Wednesday, but insisted that “our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.” Pointing to former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, Sessions called marijuana a “life-wrecking dependency” that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

“We need to say as Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just Say No.’ Don’t do it! There is no excuse for this,” Sessions said. “It is not recreational.”

Sessions said that he participated in such prevention campaigns as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s. “We can do this again,” he said. “We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.”

But Reagan’s most ubiquitous prevention program, D.A.R.E, was ineffectual at best. Researchers found that teenagers who were enrolled in the drug prevention program were just as likely to use drugs as those who did not receive this training, according to Scientific American. After Congress passed the the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act in 1986, mandating zero tolerance for any drugs or alcohol found on public school grounds, education experts said the so-called school-to-prison pipeline began to explode in public schools across the nation. According to 2014 Census data, more young black high school dropouts are in prison than have jobs.

NBC News 03/15/2017 1:36

Sessions: ‘Just Say No’ Drug Prevention Campaign Will Combat Crime

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