Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.
Sessions, a former Alabama senator, has long viewed pot as a public menace and a source of street crime.
A majority of states allow the use of medical marijuana and eight, including the entire West Coast and the District of Columbia, allow recreational use. What supporters have achieved is to pass a 2014 rider to the annual spending bill that has prevented federal funds from being used to prosecute medical marijuana cases in states that allow it.
"The previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission", wrote Sessions, according to NBC.
Sessions said the new Justice Department policy "simply directs all USA 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". And Sessions is giving broad discretion to US attorneys to decide how aggressively to enforce marijuana law, among all the other demands on their time and limited resources.
Here's how the Sessions memo affects five areas of Colorado's legal marijuana field.
Session's memo repeals that Obama-era policy.
Sessions named Richard Donoghue as interim chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of NY and Geoffrey Berman for the Southern District of NY. "There is a belief that that is inconsistent with what federal law says", a senior Department of Justice official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Politico. They also declined to specify what message the attorney general is sending to the pot industry, which is expanding in states with their own more lenient laws.
The new USA attorney in Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, a Trump appointee who was confirmed by the Senate in mid-December, called marijuana "a risky drug" in his statement on Sessions' action.
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"Jeff Sessions told me this wouldn't be a priority".
In a tweet, Gardner threatened to retaliate by blocking confirmation of Sessions' nominees for DOJ positions. The president had seemingly supported marijuana on the campaign trail, saying he thought it should be left up to the states.
"I think we'll have a strong argument should the federal government try to change the rules", Cynthia Coffman said. "It should be up to the states, absolutely".
In a written statement, the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the program, said it's following guidelines set up in the new law.
Prosecutors in Western states wanted guidance from the Justice Department when the likelihood of state marijuana legalization became clear in 2010 and 2011.
Politicians and officials from several states lashed out at Sessions' move, most indicating they will continue to back recreational pot sales.
The industry's economic contributions means it would be hard to do away with, he said. "Attorney General Sessions has made a decision to use the power of the federal government to attack the ability of states to decide their own laws".
Still, the Justice Department, under President Barack Obama, took a hands-off approach.