The last few years have seen some interesting movement on the issue of marijuana. States like Colorado have officially made selling and using it legally, despite federal policy still classifying it otherwise. While other states have at least taken steps to lessen criminal penalties and allowed for the drug’s broader medical use.
While the issue is certainly controversial, it’s taken a backseat to far more important and more pressing ones since Trump took office. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s long been rabidly against the legalization of the plant, is making moves against the movement to decriminalize the drug.
As reported at the Hill, Sessions has announced he’ll be rolling back an Obama-era policy that gave states leeway to allow marijuana for recreational purposes.
Thursday afternoon the Justice Department released a memo announcing that the so-called Cole memo would be rescinded. The memo ordered US attorney generals in states where voters decided to legalize marijuana to de-prioritize the prosecution of marijuana-related cases.
“Previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately,” the memo reads.
Sessions has taken a hard stance against the drug since becoming AG, but until now, no official action has been taken against it.
However, back in May Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting they get rid of an amendment in the department’s budget that blocks the Justice Department from using federal money to prevent states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Opponents to the legalization of marijuana were overjoyed over Sessions’ announcement Thursday.
“It’s pretty clear that the federal policy is going to be that U.S. attorneys will have discretion and the industry can no longer hide behind the Cole memo and say that they’re protected,” said Kevin Sabet, who worked in Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and now runs the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “There is an unknown here because we don’t know how this is going to be implemented.”
The move comes in the wake of California becoming the sixth state that’s legalized marijuana for recreational use on Monday, with Massachusetts and Maine set to join the ranks later this year.
Since states began taking the matter into their own hands, the cannabis market has boomed. Wealthy growers and even hedge funds have invested millions of dollars in production and sales, with some analysts pegging the market at $10 billion in annual sales.
Sessions’ shot over the bow is just the beginning of what will likely become a long and protracted legal battle between the states and feds. How it’ll end up is anyone’s guess, but it’s sure to have some effect on the contentious issue of state’s rights, meaning that opponents of marijuana and government overreach into state business may find themselves conflicted.