Federal pot policy change sparks confusion, crackdown fears

Federal pot policy change sparks confusion, crackdown fears

The memo refers to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, where cannabis is classified as a drug in the same category as heroin.

"Marijuana continues to be against federal law", said one Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Those principles include weighing the seriousness of a crime, deterrent effect of prosecution and the cumulative impact of crimes on a community.

Until Sessions' announcement on Thursday, federal prosecutors followed guidelines laid out in the so-called Cole memo, which was issued by the Justice Department during the Obama administration.

The Obama policy it replaces is contained in a series of memos authored by then Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who set priorities for federal involvement to cases involving distribution to minors, revenue going to criminal gangs, using state law as a cover to traffic marijuana to states without comparable laws, and prevention of "drugged driving".

Federal prosecutors are not elected, but they often have long histories working in their districts.

That guidance is gone, effective today.

The author of the Obama administration's policy, James Cole, told the AP it was meant to put states on notice that they had to regulate the industry and the federal government would still prosecute cases that threatened public safety. To say this is an established industry with thousands of people and livelihoods depending on it would be an understatement.

David Kopel, an adjunct professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver and research director of the Independence Institute, said Sessions' announcement is sending a shock wave across Colorado, which not only changed its laws, but amended its state constitution to legalize pot.

The Obama-era policy recognized marijuana as a "dangerous drug", but said the Justice Department expected states and localities that authorized various uses to effectively regulate and police it.

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The federal perspective, however, has never changed. According to an October 2017 Gallup Poll, 64 percent of Americans backed legalizing marijuana for recreational use - the highest level of support the group has found since it began asking people about it in 1969.

Billy Williams, the US attorney for OR, released a statement saying he and his peers have been directed to use reasoned discretion in prosecuting marijuana-related crimes.

US attorneys in California paid little heed, continuing a campaign they had begun in 2012 to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries by suing their landlords. While Sessions technically gave federal prosecutors the right to go after anyone buying pot, marijuana attorney Brian Vicente doubts any government agencies would use self-admitted "finite resources" to bring charges against an average dispensary customer, especially one following Colorado state laws. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner stated shock at the decision, as it would apparently contradict private assurances received from Mr. Sessions before his appointment.

Gillibrand urged fellow lawmakers to support legislation she proposed that would "keep the federal government out of the way when doctors and patients decide that medical marijuana is the best treatment for them".

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"The president believes in enforcing federal law", Sanders said at Thursday's press briefing.

But Henry Wykowski, a San Francisco attorney who represents leaders in the marijuana industry, said Sessions' action would encourage lawlessness.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the state Department of Justice would "continue to make sure Oregon's marijuana industry thrives under our carefully considered state regulatory requirements". On the campaign trail, Trump often said he thought medical marijuana wasn't that bad and the issue should be left up to the states and voters.

The governor said he expects to meet with the new top prosecutor in Nevada after she arrives.

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