OMG! Trump Administration Drops Obama-Era Easing of Marijuana Prosecutions

OMG! Trump Administration Drops Obama-Era Easing of Marijuana Prosecutions

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Grower Steve Jenkins checks out his marijuana plants at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year's day in Northglenn Colorado
Grower Steve Jenkins checks out his marijuana plants at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year's day in Northglenn, Colorado, U.S., December 31, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters)

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday rescinded an Obama administration policy that had eased enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that legalized the drug, instead giving federal prosecutors wide latitude to pursue criminal charges

The action by Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have damaging consequences for the burgeoning marijuana industry in the six states including California and Colorado that have legalized the drug for recreational use, plus dozens of others that permit medicinal use.

Justice Department officials declined to say whether they might take legal action against those states, saying further steps were “still under consideration.”

 

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to board Air Force One for travel to Palm Beach from Joint Base Andrews
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to board Air Force One for travel to Palm Beach from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

 

Federal law still prohibits marijuana even as some states move to legalize it. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump‘s top priority was enforcing federal law “whether it’s marijuana or immigration.”

The policy change, detailed by Sessions in a one-page memo to federal prosecutors nationwide, came three days after California formally launched the world’s largest regulated commercial market for recreational marijuana.

The administration’s action drew condemnation from marijuana legalization advocates and politicians in both parties in states where the drug has been legalized.

 

They said it trampled on the rights of voters in those states and created uncertainty about how strictly federal drugs laws will be enforced

The move raised questions about how it might impact tax revenues in states that permit some form of legal marijuana use. It also created uncertainty for banks, already fearful about business relationships with the marijuana industry because of concerns they might run afoul of anti-money laundering rules.

 

Customers shop for "Green Friday" deals at the Grass Station marijuana shop on Black Friday in Denver
Customers shop for “Green Friday” deals at the Grass Station marijuana shop on Black Friday in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 28, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

 

There has been a surge in legalization of marijuana at the state level in recent years. Other states that permit the regulated sale of marijuana for recreational use include Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada. Massachusetts and Maine are on track to do so this year.

The policy put in place under Democratic former President Barack Obama, outlined by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a series of memos, had discouraged federal prosecutors from pursuing marijuana-related criminal cases in states that had legalized the drug.

 

 

Sessions said in a statement that the Obama-era policy “undermines the rule of law” and told federal prosecutors in his memo to “follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions” in deciding which marijuana-related activities to prosecute.

 

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