U.S. officials threaten to crackdown on state-legalized cannabis


On Jan. 4, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice planned to rescind the prior White House administration's stance on marijuana in states that have voted to legalize it, either for medical or recreational purposes.

In California, where the 2016 passage of Proposition 64 began moving a shadowy multibillion-dollar industry into a taxed and highly regulated structure, prosecution could be left largely up to the state's four US attorneys.

"It sends a message to investors that this is a risky business and you ought to stay out of it", said Robert J. MacCoun, a professor at Stanford Law School.

San Francisco will become one of the largest major cities in the state to join in adult use sales to residents and tourists, missing the official launch day of January 1 by just five days, but beating Los Angeles to market. One in five Americans lives in a legalization state, and 29 states have medical cannabis laws.

The stage for Monday's grand opening was set when voters passed a ballot measure in November 2016, Proposition 64, immediately legalizing personal possession and use of recreational pot by adults 21 and over. Sessions' Thursday memo eliminates those rules.

In a memo, Sessions wrote that nothing had changed in regards to the federal government's stance on the legality of cannabis, and the department would no longer turn a blind eye from the law in states that had legalized it.

"Voters in OR were clear when they chose for OR to legalize the sale of marijuana, and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians", Brown said.

Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an advocacy group for legalized weed, described Mr. Sessions' plan as "warped". "Nothing has changed in terms of the principles we use to decide which cases to bring", said Christina Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont.

Until recreational pot was legalized in mid-2015, medical marijuana shops were the only place consumers with medical cards were able to purchase cannabis.

U.S. officials threaten to crackdown on state-legalized cannabis
U.S. officials threaten to crackdown on state-legalized cannabis

Even with other states as models for what works and what can go wrong as marijuana strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin hit the street, the next year is expected to be a bumpy one as more shops open and more stringent regulations take effect. "We're going to be resilient", he said.

California's state Bureau of Cannabis Control - which has approved hundreds of licenses for businesses seeking to legally grow, transport and sell marijuana - on Thursday vowed to continue issuing permits.

Vitiello has been writing about the laws surrounding marijuana legalization for more than 20 years and said the reversal in federal leniency creates an immediate climate of confusion and hesitation for a young industry.

For many stakeholders in the marijuana industry, Thursday was a hard day. In Colorado alone, about 35,000 people work in the legal marijuana industry, which generated more than $226 million in taxes past year on a product once sold entirely on the black market.

Sicklick said this is Sessions' personal crusade against cannabis.

How that plays out on the ground, from sunny California to snowed-in MA, is a question that has kept the phones of marijuana attorneys busy.

"I am blown away by how many brands I am familiar with when I go into a dispensary that won't be there anymore", says Buttrick of the new legal reality. "At the California Department of Justice, we intend to vigorously enforce our state's laws and protect our state's interests".

"I've talked to 15 clients today ranging from folks in OH to Florida to Denver", Vicente said. Nor does Moen think the DEA will ramp up marijuana enforcement, particularly given how closely the federal agents rely on their local and state partnerships in drug task forces.

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