Government to End Policy That Let Legal Pot Flourish

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.

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.

While many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, creating a conflict between federal and state law. Thursday’s announcement is a major decision for an attorney general who has regularly decried marijuana use as dangerous.

In a written statement Thursday, Sessions called the shift a “return to the rule of law” but he did not go as far as some advocates had feared he might, stopping short of explicitly directing more prosecutions, resources or other efforts to take down the industry as a whole.

“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” Sessions said in a memo to all federal prosecutors. “These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.”

The former senior Justice Department official behind the decision to harmonize federal prosecutions with state legalization efforts during the Obama told CNN in a phone interview Thursday that it’s uncertain how Sessions’ new memo will play out at the state level.

“The whole point was to do what we could to maintain some control in this area,” said Jim Cole, former deputy attorney general and now a partner at Sidley Austin in Washington.

Back in 2013, as an increasing number of states began to legalize marijuana, Cole released a directive to federal prosecutors that essentially adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.

In what became colloquially known as the “Cole memo,” the department recognized that the drug was still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act but gave federal prosecutors permission to focus their resources elsewhere, so long as the states didn’t threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of the drug to minors and targeting cartels.

“The memo set out harms we saw associated with marijuana” but essentially said that otherwise “let’s let the states deal with this,” Cole told CNN. “Given a non-perfect situation, we figured this was the best way to deal with it.”

The new memo likely “reduces the level of comfort in the industry until we sees how US attorneys actually implement it,” Cole added. “Each US attorney now gets to decide what will and will not be prosecuted. We’ll have to see how it plays out. … There was a previously a higher level of reliability that you could operate your industry if you followed certain rules. That’s not necessarily being destroyed, but it is being thrown into question.”

The US Attorney’s Office in Colorado released a statement Thursday saying there are no plans to change marijuana prosecutions:

“Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions — focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state. We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.”

Congress, industry alarmed

Sessions’ shift at the Justice Department comes days after marijuana became officially legal under laws in California, the largest state. Voters in California approved the measure in November 2016, but the legal, commercial sale of marijuana under state law just went into effect with the new year.

A majority of states allow the use of medical marijuana and eight, including the entire West Coast and the District of Columbia, allow recreational use.

When asked whether the Justice Department was considering suing states that attempt to legalize the drug after this new policy has gone into effect, one senior Justice official said, “Further steps are still under consideration.”

The immediate reaction to Thursday’s news from the marijuana industry and some members of Congress was alarm.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, tweeted that the issue “must be left up to the states,” ran counter to what he had been previously told by Sessions and threatened to hold up confirmation of DOJ nominees.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon, where marijuana is also legal, similarly blasted the move.

“Trump promised to let states set their own marijuana policies. Now he’s breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade. Once again the Trump administration is doubling down on protecting states’ rights only when they believe the state is right,” Wyden said in a statement.

One issue that may be potentially litigated is how the new memo affects medical versus recreational marijuana use.

Congress voted in its last session to extend a spending provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocks the Justice Department from using federal funds to impede the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

Sessions’ new memo does not explicitly set forth how prosecutors should treat medical marijuana, though a senior Justice official explained that prosecutors wouldn’t do anything contrary to any current federal law. The open question is how broadly or narrowly that appropriations rider may be interpreted down the line, as it is an unsettled issue in the federal courts.

35 comments

  • Glorious

    Hey little elf, go back to the Keebler treehouse you crawled out of. No state wants to be told they can’t raise desperately needed revenue because you have a problem with it.

    • Attention dope smokers:

      Yep, let’s raise revenue by inviting yet another drug into people’s homes so they can live in a fog and drive impaired as well as distracted. Great idea. Let’s legalize prostitution while we’re at it. Frivolous sex never hurt anyone either.

  • potsmoker

    Seize the drug money !! Can’t “legalize” illegal drugs just so a state can profit off it’s stupid users , Another Obama problem finally dying it’s proper death .

    • learn something. anything.

      “Illegal drugs”? What does that mean thinking man? Alcohol was “illegal” during prohibition. Opiods when sold by Big Pharma are perfectly “legal”. When the same drug is sold on the street it is “illegal”. Unpasteurized milk is illegal. This is more about Sessions and his GOP goon buddies, who own millions in private prison companies, driving up their profits at the expense of human suffering. Quite typical GOP behavior actually.

    • E

      Easy, they will switch to selling heroin ha ha! There is huge demand in your particular slum. I’m sure your kids will be eager to “shoot up” as the street trash phrases it.

      • Attention dope smokers:

        The average home in my ‘slum’ sells for $250,000. Go troll somewhere else, silly child.

      • E

        Ha ha ha! Aww too bad thats WELL below the average selling price of a home in my area. Ha ha ha! Is that all you’ve got? Really? So the selling price of homes in your overcrowded slum is your only bragging point? Ha ha ha! Nice try “silly child” ha ha ha! Oh boy, oh boy as you coal miner trash phrase it. Btw I’m glad your child is a worthless addict. 😂😂

      • Attention dope smokers:

        Your IP address tells me that’s not the case. Your childish responses tell me you are a silly child, or at least someone that has the maturity level of one. I have no children, fool. Grow up. Did they throw you down the steps in school? Last pick in dodgeball? Still living with grandma?

    • Attention white trash

      Ha ha ha ha! Yes things DO keep getting better! But only for those of use who earn in excess of 100,000 dollars a year and are exempt from the negative after effects of the newly passed tax bill. Also you outed yourself as a white trash alcoholic with your statement. Ha ha ha! So how many DUI’s do you have? I’m guessing at least five ha ha ha ha!

      • Attention dope smokers:

        No DUI’s, ever. Smart enough not to drink and drive. Work for a Fortune 500 Company, retiring soon in my 50’s. Cleared $100K/yr probably before you were even an unwanted child. Wow, you can tell someone is an alcoholic by the way they want illegal drugs out of the hands of people that have no willpower or self-respect? You’re special. Bet your mom called you special too.

  • learn something. anything.

    Ain’t it ironic how the GOP claims to be about less government when all they give you is less freedom, de-fund programs that WE pay for like Medicare and Social Security, give the highest increase in national debt in history all for huge tax breaks to the rich. Unbelievable that people still vote for these clowns. (oh yeah — they also love to scream for term limits but they keep on running and running and the sheep keep re-electing them).

    • One Standard is just fine.

      Jeff Sessions is for states rights. Just in things he agrees with, other than that he is a little authoritarian keebler elf.

      Call your representative and complain;

      Lou Barletta (570) 751-0050

      • warningfakenews

        Swamp creatures rarely give up their loyalty to the swamp.

        Said another way, Sessions wants the federal government in on the cash cow.

  • Robert Jordan

    Wrong! If you puff one too many, then I do not want to see you behind the wheel. The police have devices to test for alcohol levels but not for Marijuana. They have their hands full now dealing with drunk drivers.

    • E

      @robert. Well no one asked what you want now did they Robert? Ha ha ha! Your comment makes it obvious that you’re a typical NEPA coal miner trash drunk who is upset because you have, I’m guessing, at least four DUI convictions. Aww poor baby don’t be mad because they can’t arrest pot smokers as easily as drunken white trash like yourself lol.

    • One Standard is just fine.

      Yeah police have devices to test for alcohol, still doesn’t stop someone from getting behind the wheel after drinking. Its called personal responsibility,

      Get off your high horse. Just because you might be they type of person to drive after drinking doesn’t mean everyone is.

  • Jimmyc

    Just legalize it already! It’s harmless unlike alchahol!!! It grows from the ground!! It’s a plant for crying out loud! There’s bigger fish to fry than worrying about some one puffing ! Look how people act when their drunk compared to a person who puffs a little , quite different!!!!!!, LEGALIZE!!!

    • Bigger fish to fry

      So from your worldview everyone committing ‘lesser’ crimes gets a free pass. So what’s the threshold? If a person beats their dog, and their children, they should only be accountable for the children. Beating the dog is OK then? Got it.

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