The U.S. Justice Department recently terminated an Obama administration policy that showed leniency towards the pot trade and kept federal authorities from making arrests in states that have declared it legal. Now, however, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, prosecutors are free to pursue charges when there is a debate over federal and state drug laws.
In 2013, the Obama administration declared that it would let each state decide if they wanted to legalize marijuana, as long as officials agreed to actively keep it from migrating to places where it was still illegal and made an effort to keep it away from children and out of the hands of criminal gangs. In fact, then Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, wrote a memo clarifying exactly how the federal government would respond as additional states began allowing marijuana sales for medical as well as recreational purposes, so there would be no confusion.
This “hands-off “approach to the enforcement of marijuana laws by Obama’s Justice Department allowed the marijuana business in the U.S. to expand into a multimillion-dollar industry, which uses profits to fund some state government programs.
According to a Justice Department source, former administration’s guidelines “created a safe harbor for the marijuana industry to operate in these states and … there is a belief that that is inconsistent with what the federal law says.’ Sessions blames legalization of pot for a variety of problems, including the trafficking of marijuana across state lines where it can be sold for a higher price. Due to these problems, Sessions recently rolled back this policy, indicating that it allowed legal marijuana to thrive without federal intervention. Now, federal prosecutors have additional freedom to pursue more marijuana cases.
“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 wrote in a memo to prosecutors.
There has been harsh retaliation by many about the change in policy regarding marijuana laws. Currently, there are 29 states that have adopted medical marijuana laws, and seven additional states that legalized pot for recreational use.
Members of Congress as well as marijuana advocates were outraged at the actions of Sessions, a mere three days after the legalization of marijuana in California, indicating federal intrusion into issues they insist should be left to the states to manage. In a sure sign that views on the drug have dramatically changed, opposition to the move came from Republicans as well as Democrats.
Many such as Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski thought the announcement was “disruptive” and “regrettable.” In fact, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado says the move completely contradicts a promise from Sessions before being confirmed as attorney general. Gardner counted on this promise to help his agenda to push legislation to protect marijuana sales.
Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer indicated that his office is not prepared to change its stance on prosecution, despite Sessions’ actions. According to Troyer, prosecutors there focus their attention on marijuana crimes that “create the greatest safety threats” and will on that path.
When asked about the president’s stance on the subject, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders kept on point only indicating that Trump’s main priority is to continue to enforce federal laws “regardless of what the topic is, whether it’s marijuana or whether it’s immigration.” As a presidential candidate, Trump’s belief was that marijuana should be left up to the states.
Currently, the big question is how the new change will affect states where medical marijuana is legal. There is a congressional amendment in place that prohibits the Justice Department from intervening with existing medical marijuana programs set up by states where it is legal. Department Of Justice officials indicate they will follow the existing law, however, they would not rule out the possibility of any medical-marijuana related prosecutions. They would not comment on whether not federal prosecutors plan to focus on legal marijuana shops and growers.
According to Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Sessions “wants to maintain a system that has led to tremendous injustice … and that has wasted federal resources on a huge scale. If Sessions thinks that makes sense in terms of prosecutorial priorities, he is in a very bizarre ideological state, or a deeply problematic one.”
~ Conservative Zone