Attorney General Jeff Sessions just made the people in recreational marijuana states very unhappy. He issued a memo on Thursday, rescinding an Obama memo that allowed states to legalize marijuana without federal intervention.
While the move freed prosecutors to pursue bringing marijuana cases should they choose to do so, it didn’t order that they had to bring them.
From Fox News:
“U.S. attorneys need to make decisions in these cases as they do in other drugs cases,” a senior DOJ official told Fox News.
The Obama administration back in 2013 announced via a memo from then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole that it would not obstruct states that legalized marijuana, on the condition the drug was regulated so as not to hinder key federal enforcement priorities. This included preventing the drug from being distributed to minors, preventing its movement to other states, and preventing it from being used as a cover for the trafficking of other drugs.
But Sessions rescinded that.
It was not clear how that reversal would affect recreational marijuana states. The DOJ said that any further steps were still under consideration.
Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the Yes on 4 Coalition that supported legalizing marijuana, told MassLive.com that he could not tell what impact Sessions’ decision will have on Massachusetts — where the drug was legalized via a 2016 referendum.
“Jeff Sessions is revoking the Cole memo, but he’s not saying prosecutions are going to start,” Borghesani said. “I think it’s going to come down to how individual U.S. attorneys move forward in the regions that they operate.”
Ahead of the announcement, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., accused his fellow Republican of trampling “on the will of voters in [Colorado] and other states” and of contradicting what he told Gardner during his confirmation hearing. Gardner also threatened to withhold support for DOJ nominees until Sessions changes course.
During the campaign, Donald Trump had said that the decision should be left up to the states which is why this decision is leaving some supporters like Gardner angry.
But Sessions believes that the increased use of pot is responsible for spikes in violence and doesn’t want to make it more acceptable. He’s looking at it through the prism also of the opioid crisis and seeing it as a potential stepping stone.
“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful,” he told law enforcement officials in March. “Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
In a letter to congressional leaders in May, he asked them to ditch language that prevents the DOJ from spending money preventing states from implementing their own laws on medical marijuana.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions wrote. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Twenty-nine states have adopted medical marijuana laws, while seven other states have legalized the drug for recreational purposes.
California became the most recent state to permit recreational pot use. They made it legal for those 21 and older, residents can grow up to 6 pot plants at a time and possess up to an ounce of pot.
Sessions actions angered people like far left Rep. Ted Lieu who declared almost anything more important than enforcement against marijuana.
But it also angered some reasonable Republicans like Gardner.
It remains to be seen if the federal prosecutors will actually all enforce this new policy or they will apply it according to how their states may be approaching the question. But this does free them to make that decision.
[Note: The post was written by Nick Arama]