Jeff Sessions ending federal policy that let legal pot flourish
Jan 08, 2018, 02:49
The move essentially shifts federal policy from the hands-off approach adopted under the previous administration to unleashing federal prosecutors across the country to decide individually how to prioritize resources to crack down on pot possession, distribution and cultivation of the drug in states where it is legal. Thursday's announcement is a major decision for an attorney general who has regularly decried marijuana use as unsafe.
"This extremely misguided action will enable a federal crackdown on states' rights with regard to marijuana policy", said Matthew Schweich, interim head of the Marijuana Policy Project.
In his memo Sessions said, "Prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutors". She said Sessions' directive "simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law".
By Thursday afternoon, one US attorney in a key jurisdiction said Sessions' new guidelines wouldn't change federal enforcement there.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back guidelines that helped protect businesses in states where pot is legal.
The policy put in place under Democratic former President Barack Obama, outlined by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a series of memos, had discouraged federal prosecutors from pursuing marijuana-related criminal cases in states that had legalized the drug.
Gillibrand urged fellow lawmakers to support legislation she proposed that would "keep the federal government out of the way when doctors and patients decide that medical marijuana is the best treatment for them".
Weed users in the United States are living in a pretty precarious situation. "The biggest growth phase was during the (George W.) Bush administration, when we were facing SWAT team raids, and prosecutions on a almost weekly basis in California". We'll have to see how it plays out.
The federal perspective, however, has never changed.
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The author of the Obama administration's policy, James Cole, told the AP it was meant to put states on notice that they had to regulate the industry and the federal government would still prosecute cases that threatened public safety. The conflict between state and federal law has been a hot issue at least since 2012, when Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational use of marijuana. Colorado, Washington, California and several other states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, notwithstanding federal prohibitions.
The Obama-era policy recognized marijuana as a "dangerous drug", but said the Justice Department expected states and localities that authorized various uses to effectively regulate and police it.
The immediate reaction to Thursday's news from the marijuana industry and some members of Congress was alarm.
In a tweet, Gardner threatened to retaliate by blocking confirmation of Sessions' nominees for DOJ positions.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from OR, where marijuana is also legal, similarly blasted the move.
"There needs to be a difference of view between medical marijuana and recreational use of marijuana", Governor Asa Hutchinson said.
But many states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, have passed laws decriminalizing the drug for medical reasons. The Supreme Court, weighing in on this in 2005, ruled six to three in favor of the federal government's ban superseding state medical marijuana laws.
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