In a monumental development that will have seismic consequences and is expected to send states into a tizzy, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will announce the reversal of the Obama administration policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, Politico reports.
What does that mean, essentially?
- Marijuana consumption, which is legal in many states has been illegal on a federal level for decades, can be prosecuted more vigorously.
- It will discourage businesses and individuals from opening or expanding their enterprises that deal with cannabis for fear of prosecution.
- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session was cryptic about enforcement, saying he will leave it up to U.S. Attorneys to decide to prosecute such violations of federal laws.
After decades of resistance, many U.S. states had finally capitulated to the will of the people and decriminalized marijuana use, but it created a conflict between federal and state laws. Obama, however, adopted a policy of laissez-faire that didn’t meddle in the decision of the states to develop their own policies accommodating marijuana either from a recreational or medicinal standpoint, or both.
“Given the Department’s well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately,” Sessions said in in a statement sent to U.S. attorneys across the country, Politico reports.
Some critics say the Trump administration is engaging in subterfuge, a way of deliberately creating confusion or muddying the waters so that their intentions are unclear. The Justice Department also failed to say whether this will lead to greater prosecution of marijuana-related crimes.
“I can’t sit here and say whether it will or will not lead to more marijuana prosecutions,” said a senior DOJ official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We believe U.S. attorneys’ offices should be opened up to bring all of these cases that are necessary to be brought.”
Sessions’ decision surprised few but still angered many since the institution of his policy seems impractical. This happens just days after California legalized marijuana. The majority of states allow the use of medical marijuana and eight, including all of the West Coast states and the District of Columbia, allow recreational use.
Sessions, a conservative and traditionalist, said that while states “can pass the laws they choose,” he said resolutely that it is “a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States.”
Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, where recreational marijuana was approved by voters in 2012, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, where pot has been decriminalized since 2003 and legalized recreationally since 2014, denounced the move as soon as they were made aware of it.
“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,” Gardner tweeted, speaking for most states that have decriminalized marijuana. “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
Moreover, Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., denounced the decision as “outrageous. This goes against “the majority of Americans — including a majority of Republican voters — who want the federal government to stay out of the way is perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the Attorney General has made,” Blumenauer said according to Politico.