Sessions declares it high time for pot clampdown
As if the Trump administration didn’t have enough conflagrations to put out, it has now handed fire extinguishers to US attorneys and told them blast away with the full weight of federal law at even the faintest ember glow at the end of a marijuana joint.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s taciturn attorney general, may have recused himself from the Russia investigation, but he is all-in on the war on pot. Sessions issued a memo Thursday to US attorneys instructing them to use their full discretion in enforcing federal laws against marijuana.
Sessions has made no secret of his view that marijuana is a dangerous link on the drug chain leading the country’s current opioid epidemic, but he had yet to pull the trigger and rescind an Obama administration memo that instructed federal prosecutors to respect state law when it came to prosecuting marijuana cases. With his order this week rescinding the earlier Department of Justice directive, Sessions has now set up a showdown between federal prosecutors and officials in eight states that have legalized recreational pot.
Massachusetts, which is in the midst of finalizing regulations for the launch of commercial pot shops later year, now finds itself in the cannabis cross hairs. Gov. Charlie Baker, who opposed the ballot question legalizing pot, says he nonetheless “fully supports the will of voters” and called the DOJ move “the wrong decision.” The state Cannabis Control Commission, which is busy setting regulations for the new industry, said in a statement that “nothing has changed” and it is proceeding with its work.
Andrew Lelling, the new US attorney for Massachusetts, declined to say whether the state should move ahead with its marijuana regulatory system, but he made clear he doesn’t view pot benignly. “Medical studies confirm that marijuana is in fact a dangerous drug, and it is illegal under federal law,” he said in a statement. “As a result, our office will continue to investigate and prosecute bulk cultivation and trafficking cases, and those who use the federal banking system illegally.”
Some backers of legal pot worried that the Sessions order could have a chilling effect on investors in the new industry, while opponents of cheered that possibility.
The 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana may be shielded from federal action, at least for now, by a federal budget amendment cosponsored by US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative California Republican, that blocks any Justice Department expenditures aimed at prosecuting medical pot.
Opposition to the Sessions move was bipartisan, with Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner leading the charge from the GOP. Colorado has the most established recreational marijuana industry, having legalized sales in 2012. Gardner vowed to take any steps necessary, including blocking Department of Justice nominations, to protect Colorado’s $1 billion marijuana industry.
While “states’ rights” has long been associated with conservative politics, including the Jim Crow policies in the South, recent years have seen the emergence of a school of thought dubbed “progressive federalism,” which argues that states and local government can be the locus for progressive policy change in the face of a conservative national government. The pot wars look like they will be the latest front in that battle.
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