Justice Department Abandons Obama-Era Marijuana Guidelines

Henrietta Strickland
January 7, 2018

The change, depending on how it is administered, could affect states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use - and would go against strong public opinion backing federal deference to state rules. Thursday's announcement is a major decision for an attorney general who has regularly decried marijuana use as risky.

The move, first reported by The Associated Press, potentially paves the way for the federal government to crack down on the burgeoning pot industry - though the precise impact remains to be seen. "It's now time for Congress to put the brakes on Sessions' destructive agenda by limiting the Justice Department's ability to undermine states' decision making". I am especially frustrated that this announcement comes after Sessions has refused offers from [Washington state] Attorney General [Bob] Ferguson and myself to meet with him to discuss these policies in person, after he has disregarded the input that we and other state leaders have provided to his department.

Federal law still prohibits marijuana even as some states move to legalize it.

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. Trump told a TV news reporter that the decision to legalize marijuana should be left "up to the states". "Given a non-perfect situation, we figured this was the best way to deal with it".

If news reports are accurate, today's forthcoming announcement from Attorney General Sessions is the wrong direction for our state. "Each US attorney now gets to decide what will and will not be prosecuted".

Fox News contributor and former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz says Attorney General Jeff Sessions "needs to go" in order to fix "major systemic problems" in the Department of Justice.

In Colorado, U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said his office will continue to focus on "identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state".

Recreational marijuana became legal for adults in California on January 1.

They also criticized leaks from the Justice Department, writing, "How many FBI agents and DOJ officials have illegally discussed aspects of an ongoing investigation with reporters?"

Brian Vicente, a Denver attorney who co-wrote Colorado's 2012 constitutional amendment legalizing recreation marijuana, said the industry will closely examine the background of any new USA attorney nominees.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner says he was misled by the Trump administration.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from OR, where marijuana is also legal, similarly blasted the move. They said drug traffickers have taken advantage of state laws to grow marijuana. Now he's breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade.

Prosecutors in Western states wanted guidance from the Justice Department when the likelihood of state marijuana legalization became clear in 2010 and 2011. "Therefore, Thursday's memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country". White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump's top priority was enforcing federal law "whether it's marijuana or immigration". 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.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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