Federal pot policy change sparks confusion, crackdown fears

Sen. Lindsey Graham

It came days after California became the sixth and largest state so far to legalize the drug for recreational use.

In a one-page memo issued Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back long-standing Obama-era guidelines concerning the way Federal prosecutors should approach cases related to marijuana consumption and sale. Sessions, a longtime critic of marijuana legalization, says it causes spikes in violence and crime.

State Sen. Richard "Tick" Segerblom, a Democrat and the dean of marijuana legislation in Nevada, anxious the Trump administration reversal of the hands-off Obama-era policy would snuff out a budding business.

"The whole point was to do what we could to maintain some control in this area", said Jim Cole, former deputy attorney general and now a partner at Sidley Austin in Washington. The president had seemingly supported marijuana on the campaign trail, saying he thought it should be left up to the states. The Oregon Health Authority estimated that dispensaries in 2016 had $79.4 million in sales to medical marijuana cardholders and $215.3 million to recreational customers. But rescinding the Obama policy could have a chilling effect on the burgeoning marijuana legalization movement.

But many states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, have passed laws decriminalizing the drug for medical reasons.

In short, Sessions is giving federal prosecutors around the country more discretion about enforcing federal law in marijuana cases, even in the states where it is legal.

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said his state will pursue "all legal, legislative and political options to protect its reforms and its rights as a state".

However, Jeff Sessions' stand point is strictly speaking correct. "It's probably going to make people a little bit more cautious and it's going to cause some fights, but I think this is sort of the last fight that the prohibitionists may be putting up". He said the Trump administration's position "defies facts and logic". However, it is not clear whether the so-called Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment will pass in the current spending bill.

Sessions' new memo does not explicitly set forth how prosecutors should treat medical marijuana, though a senior Justice official explained that prosecutors wouldn't do anything contrary to any current federal law. Congress would have to change the law for states to be entirely free of federal intervention. This includes veterans, who have been choosing cannabis over prescription pills to treat symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I think Brown and OR won't be able to be so casual with this", he said.

"This needs to be a state choice".

"This extremely misguided action will enable a federal crackdown on states' rights with regard to marijuana policy", said Matthew Schweich, interim head of the Marijuana Policy Project.

"I predict that Sessions is not going to be victorious on this", Paul told Smerconish.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is executive editor of The American Conservative.

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