Acting like the authoritarian most know, attorney general Jeff Sessions just announced the end of protections for states that legalized marijuana.
The Justice Department chief effectively withdrew federal guidelines that helped limit prosecutions of businesses and individuals who sold pot in a legal manner under state law because marijuana sales are still banned under federal law.
(Keep repeating “I am free…I am free…”)
According to Politico, Sessions said future prosecutions would be up to individual U.S. attorneys. However, the announcement appeared intended to discourage marijuana-related business by being deliberately vague about future federal enforcement efforts. The new approach will probably increase confusion about the legal risk of marijuana-related activity in states that have passed legislation allowing people to grow, buy or use pot.
“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general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately,” Sessions said in a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide. In a statement, the attorney general said the department’s earlier guidance “undermines the rule of law” by second-guessing the national drug laws Congress has passed. -Politico
Perhaps a little terrifyingly too, Justice Department officials who briefed reporters on the announcement declined to say whether the new policy was intended to increase federal prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes. But knowing Sessions, that’s exactly what’s intended.
“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 the cases that they believe are necessary to be brought. The Cole memo as interpreted created a safe harbor for the marijuana industry to operate in these states. There is a belief that that is inconsistent with what federal law says,” the official said. “The Cole memo was not consistent with federal law. [Sessions] believes that it’s important that the Department of Justice be enforcing the laws that were enacted by Congress.”
Sessions, a hard-liner against the push to legalize marijuana, has vowed to take a tougher stance since joining the Trump administration last year. In February, Sessions said that while states “can pass the laws they choose,” he maintained that it remained “a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States.”