Trump administration toughens stance on recreational marijuana
The US Justice Department on Thursday reversed official policy that had tolerated the growing state-based movement to legalize marijuana sales, just three days after California formally permitted recreational use of the drug.
Announcing a “return to the rule of law”, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded five key memos issued by the administration of president Barack Obama that discouraged enforcement of federal laws, which still classify marijuana as a dangerous narcotic like heroin.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said in a statement.
Sessions did not order a new crackdown on pot sales and use, but told federal prosecutors they could act as they see fit in their districts.
His new guidance directs prosecutors “to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country,” Sessions said.
That set up a potential clash with the eight US states that have moved ahead to legalize pot sales, if government prosecutors decide to begin enforcing the federal prohibition on marijuana.
Six states now allow the sale and use of recreational pot: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska, and California.
Two others, Massachusetts and Maine, have taken steps to permit sales beginning later this year.
A total of 29 states, the capital and several US territories have legalized marijuana for medical use, even though the Federal Drug Administration has resisted approving pot as a medical drug.
Sessions — who has made fighting drug trafficking a key Justice Department policy since taking office a year ago as part of President Donald Trump’s administration — has been a vocal opponent of liberalizing marijuana laws.
But he hinted in his confirmation hearing in January 2017 that enforcing federal laws against recreational pot users might not be the best use of Justice Department manpower.
During the 2016 election campaign, Trump took a more tolerant stance, saying several times that he would leave the issue up to local authorities.
“When you look at what’s happened in Colorado as an example, it’s a local thing,” he told Boston’s WBZ NewsRadio. “I wouldn’t interfere with it. I think that’s something that really is very much up to the local area.”
But since becoming president, he has been mum on the subject, supporting Sessions’ tough law-and-order policies.