Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding Obama-era policy that protected legalized marijuana at the state level from federal intervention.
The policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws had been outlined in three Obama administration memos, CNN reported.
While many states have legalized marijuana — for recreational or medical purposes — or at least decriminalized it, the drug remains illegal under federal law.
By reversing course on marijuana at the state level, Sessions gives the go-ahead to U.S. attorneys in marijuana-friendly states to prosecute violations of federal marijuana law prohibiting the growth, purchase, possession and use of the drug — though he did not explicitly call for prosecutions to take place, yet.
Sessions’ new policy authorizes U.S. attorneys to decide how to proceed with this in their jurisdictions, which opens the door to more enforcement than has been in practice over the past few years from the federal level.
— NPR (@NPR) January 4, 2018
A Justice Department official told NBC that Sessions would undo the 2013 memo leading to a hands-off marijuana policy at the federal level, provided the state policies did not interfere with federal justice priorities, including distribution to minors and cartel activity.
Marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2014, and since then, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have followed suit. Medical marijuana is allowed in 28 states. It’s understood that Sessions will allow the federal prosecutors in those states decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law.
In a 2016 Senate hearing, Sessions — then a Republican Senator representing Alabama — said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions also once joked to a U.S. attorney that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
Sessions also famously equated marijuana with heroin and said it led to spikes in violence.
The move also appears to contradict President Donald Trump’s previous statements on marijuana — that legality and enforcement should be up to the states’ discretion.
Trump says in this video that he’d never let his pick for Attorney General ban recreational marijuana, says it should be up to the states. Maybe he should tell Jeff Sessions this. pic.twitter.com/2ApgycbVzu
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) January 4, 2018