Many cannabis lovers have been waiting to see how Attorney General Jeff Sessions would weigh in on federal-level marijuana policy. Yesterday, Sessions did just that by rolling back an Obama-era policy known as the Cole Memo, which supported legal marijuana without federal intervention.
By rolling back the policy, federal prosecutors can now bring marijuana cases to suit. Sessions says that marijuana is no different than any other drug, and doesn’t agree with the Obama administration’s special consideration of marijuana. A senior DOJ official told Fox News that the memo repeal effectively now lets U.S. attorneys make decisions in marijuana cases just as they would in any other illegal drug case.
In 2013, Obama said it would not federally obstruct states that decided to legalize marijuana. There were some stipulations, such as each state needing to regulate the drug; states also couldn’t do anything overtly to interfere with federal drug enforcement priorities. The Cole memo stipulations included not being able to sell or distribute the drug to minors or across state lines. Marijuana could also not be used as a cover for trafficking of other drugs.
Sessions’ Department of Justice announced Thursday that it had rescinded the Cole Memo. Sessions said that the previous nationwide guidance regarding marijuana enforcement was all that was needed, and the Cole Memo was unnecessary.
Sessions’ move gives U.S. attorneys much more decision-making power regarding how—and how much–to enforce federal law on marijuana. Sessions’ repeal of the memo is not a surprise.
What is a surprise—or at least an unknown—is what effect the reversal will have on states that have legalized recreational pot use. It is also unknown how it will affect the very booming marijuana industry.
It has also left tongues wagging about how much power the federal government will take back. Many wonder if the federal government will now sue states like California and Colorado, and the DOJ is not commenting on it either.
Some states like Massachusetts, which legalized pot in 2016, think that it will turn into a chaotic mess, with each individual U.S. attorney deciding how to do things in their region and state.
Some Colorado legislators accuse Sessions of “trampling on the will of our state’s voters.” Sessions isn’t a big fan of recreational marijuana use and has blamed increased use on a rise in U.S. violence. He has been a very outspoken critic of marijuana use:
“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. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
Sessions says he simply wants his DOJ to always be in the position of being able to use all laws available to fight dangerous drug traffickers and international drug cartels. In particular, Sessions has taken aim at gangs like MS-13.
Marijuana proponents say Sessions has it wrong, and that banning it at a federal level and making it more difficult for states only increases the black market criminal activity.
Most likely, Sessions timed yesterday’s announcement to coincide with California’s January 2 legalization of recreational pot for people over age 21. In California, people can carry one ounce and grow six plants. California Dems already have their hackles up. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) criticized Sessions, saying on Twitter that “basically anything was more important than cracking down on pot use.”
Liberals are up in arms saying Sessions’ move is a “big deal for legalization efforts”. Sessions simply says he is trying to crack down on drug cartels and that Obama’s approach was too soft. Opponents of the Sessions decision say that he is just trying to penalize states for legalizing recreational use. The liberals are already fear-mongering, saying that Sessions will likely go back to federal law enforcement raids of legal state marijuana businesses. Sessions has said nothing of the sort.
California is the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana. Only seven states and Washington D.C. have made recreational use legal. And it remains illegal at the federal level by being classified in the strictest category as a schedule 1 drug with criminal penalties attached to its use.