When President-elect Donald Trump nominated Jeff Sessions to serve as the US Attorney General, marijuana advocates began bracing for the worst. Sessions is a well-known hardliner when it comes to marijuana policy. His quip that he thought the KKK was “okay, until I found out they smoked pot,” is infamous. And it was a clear indication of Sessions’ ideology and law enforcement priorities. But until today, the 11 months since Sessions’ Senate confirmation have been mostly quiet with respect to state-legal weed. After an announcement today, however, it’s clear this was just the calm before the storm. As of today, Jeff Sessions’ anti-pot federal crackdown is in full force.
On the west coast, Californians rang in the new year with the full rollout of the state’s legal marijuana program. As of January 1, anyone 21 and over in California can legally purchase, possess, and privately consume cannabis. It’s the beginning of what many expect to be the world’s largest legal marijuana market.
And it’s not just California. Across the nation, states legislatures are introducing bills which aim to legalize cannabis in some form. Whether it’s expanding medical access or introducing recreational use laws, states are taking action to represent their constituents, a majority of whom think weed should be legal. 2017 already saw a windfall of such legislative initiatives, and 2018 promises to deliver even more.
In the meantime, the legal cannabis has blossomed into a sophisticated, well-funded and widely popular industry. Revenue from taxes on companies and sales has funded schools, educational programs, infrastructure and law enforcement agencies.
But according to anonymous officials within the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is gearing up to bring the overwhelming national trend to a halt.
According to the AP, Jeff Sessions is rescinding a “hands-off” policy that has been in place since the Obama administration.
Back in 2013, then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo announcing that federal law enforcement agencies would not interfere with states with legalized weed. As long as states were taking adequate measures to keep legal weed away from criminals and children, federal authorities would not prioritize enforcement of the federal ban on cannabis. Legal states would also need to stem distribution across state lines.
On the ground, this Obama-era policy essentially created a “safe haven” for states with legal weed. Removing the ever-present fear of a federal crackdown encouraged investment in the cannabis industry and created the opportunities for businesses in the medical and recreational sectors to thrive.
The “safe haven” ends today, however.
With the rescinding of the 2013 policy memo, Jeff Sessions’ anti-pot federal crackdown is in full force. Instead of the hands-off approach adopted by Obama’s DOJ, Sessions is green-lighting federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue federal marijuana enforcement.
Let’s be more specific. U.S. attorneys will now have the ability to determine which and how much federal resources will go to cracking down on state-legal marijuana programs.
As expected, anti-pot advocates are praising Sessions’ decision and celebrating it as a victory for their cause. “This is a victory. It’s going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years,” said Kavin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
However, pro-cannabis advocates, civil society groups, and even some law enforcement officials are sharply criticizing Sessions’ move. They argue its a backslide to an outdated war-on-drugs approach that is ineffective at curbing the illicit trade but remarkably effective at devastating poor and minority communities.
Jeff Sessions served as a federal prosecutor in Alabama during the height of the war on drugs. Now, as US Attorney General, he’s applying those ideas and policies on a national scale. Obama-era justice officials worked to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimums and harsh sentences for nonviolent drug charges. Sessions has advocated for the exact opposite.
Earlier this year, Sessions issued an order that prosecutors should pursue the most serious charges possible for low-level drug offenders.
And now, with the elimination of the policy that sheltered legal weed states from federal interference, Session’s Justice Department is free to carry out the Attorney General’s extreme vision for a nation without legal cannabis. And that’s why Jeff Sessions’ anti-pot federal crackdown is in full force as of today.
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