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.

But something most definitely has changed.

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.

–MICHAEL JONAS


WINTER STORM

The highest tides seen since the Blizzard of ‘78 flooded coastal areas of Boston, including the Seaport, home to billions of dollars of new development. (Boston Globe) Salem and the North Shore struggled amid unprecedented tidal surges and flooding. (Salem News) Some homes in the Gloucester area are evacuated and thousands are left without power in the wake of the storm (Gloucester Times)

Among the hundreds of accidents, a car was stuck on the tracks in Bridgewater but the driver and passenger escaped before a commuter rail train plowed into it. (The Enterprise)

Medway selectmen doubled the reimbursement rate from $25 to $50 for residents whose mailboxes are taken out by snow plows. (MetroWest Daily News)

If you must drive, clean the snow and ice off your car or face the wrath of Keller@Large.

BEACON HILL

State tax collections soared in December, exceeding projections by $527 million. (State House News)

Rep. Donald R. Berthiaume Jr. , a Republican from Spencer, spent the snow day plowing out friends and neighbors. (Telegram & Gazette)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Never mind. Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said it was a mistake for him to give city workers the day off on Friday to attend his 90-minute inauguration. He reversed course on Thursday and told them to report to work as usual. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston’s Winter Festival on City Hall Plaza, meant to revive the forlorn open space, has instead devolved into a bitter bout of charges, counter-charges, and a lawsuit between Boston Garden Development Corp., which manages the site, and Millennial Entertainment, the subcontractor running the vendors and concessions. (Boston Globe)

The quasi-public board overseeing the redevelopment of the former South Weymouth air base is coming under fire for paying its new executive director a salary that is higher than any official’s in Weymouth, Abington, or Rockland, the three towns that cover the property. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump wants to open most US coastal waters to drilling. (Bloomberg)

A Herald editorial bids good riddance to Trump’s “voter fraud commission,” which was established based not on actual evidence of voter fraud but on Trump’s bruised ego after losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Wealthy people from all over the world have purchased condos at Millennium Tower in Boston’s Downtown Crossing, but city assessing records suggest few of them live there full time. (CommonWealth)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished above 25,000 for the first time. (NPR)

The economy added 148,000 new jobs in December while unemployment remained steady at 4.1 percent, according to the Labor Department, the 87th consecutive month of job growth in the country. (New York Times)

Federal officials have approved a “groundbreaking” fish habitat plan that has been a decade in the making that opens up some previously closed scallop areas and bars fishing in some sensitive spawning grounds. (Cape Cod Times)

EDUCATION

All 50 states started the school year with a shortage of teachers and many are still scrambling to fill slots ranging from kindergarten to special education. (Stateline)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The number of men in nursing has steadily increased and while they still only account for 13 percent of the profession, many say it is the career path of the future for males. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA aims to get back on a regular schedule today after weathering Thursday’s storm without any catastrophic failures. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Pilgrim Station, the nuclear power plant in Plymouth, goes offline but the region’s power grid soldiers on with a heavy reliance on oil-fired generators. (CommonWealth)

Eversource has agreed to cut some of its customers’ rates in the wake of the massive savings it expects to receive from the recent congressional tax cut legislation. (State House News Service)

A federal judge has ruled that appeals by Weymouth of two permits for the proposed gas compressor station at Fore River can move forward but he did not lift the stays imposed by the state when the appeals were filed. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A transgender woman inmate dropped her lawsuit against Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi in return for a slightly earlier release from jail. (MassLive)

A Pittsfield man was arrested for threatening a Berkshire County assistant district attorney. (Berkshire Eagle)

MEDIA

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas trashes Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell, saying he is throwing the newspaper’s workers to the wolves while he walks away a rich man with his Ink Block real estate investment. Lucas formerly worked for the Herald for close to 20 years.

SPORTS

U-turn in Patriot Way: ESPN has a devastating inside look at what it says is a bubbling cauldron of angst, despair, and downright distrust in a power struggle between the trio of owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady.