Trump kills Obama-era protections for state recreational weed sales

President Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka at the White House in Washington. Molly Riley  Pool via Getty Images file
President Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka at the White House in Washington. Molly Riley Pool via Getty Images file

08 January, 2018

Although the drug is legal for recreational use in California, the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened up the possibility that growers and dispensaries could be prosecuted for violations of federal law, as marijuana is still a controlled substance at the federal level.

Obama-era guidance gave low priority to prosecutions of medical marijuana dispensing under state law.

Since 2014, Congress has attached amendments to the Justice Department budget forbidding interference with laws in states that allow medical marijuana, a list that began with California in 1996 and has grown to 29 states and the District of Columbia, with a combined 60 percent of the USA population.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose home state of Alaska has legalized recreational marijuana, also weighed in with a statement, saying Sessions' announcement-which she had repeatedly warned him against making-was "disruptive to state regimes and regrettable".

While Hutchinson said he intends to stand behind voters decision to approve medical marijuana, he made it clear he does want Arkansas to become a recreational use state. Effectively, Sessions has rescinded a 2013 guidance issued by then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole that limited prosecutions as along as individuals and businesses were operating under their state's laws. They are surrounded by attorneys who have spent their careers arguing federal cases before judges who can make their displeasure with a USA attorney known in sentencing decisions and in the scheduling of cases.

"We're moving forward as an industry and as a patient organization we're happy that things are moving forward here in Arkansas and we'll let things in D.C. play out as they will", he said.

Rohrabacher wasn't the only Republican taking on Sessions. Sen. "California voters chose to legalize adult use of cannabis in 2016".

In his memo Sessions said, "Prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutors".

"Strong as we are on state's rights here in Texas", Williams said. He has likened marijuana to heroin.

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President Trump, who in other contexts has advocated "states' rights", provided a degree of support for his attorney general through spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She did not elaborate. Sessions has railed against marijuana for years.

"If they close down regulated access to cannabis, all they are doing is opening it up to the cartels and the black market", he said. It's also generated confusion about what the policy might mean for marijuana users, sellers and states that collect taxes from pot sales. A federal law blocks the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed.

"[He] did not tell any U.S. Attorneys to go after any businesses", Sillitoe said.

When asked whether the Justice Department was considering suing states that attempt to legalize the drug after this new policy has gone into effect, one senior Justice official said, "Further steps are still under consideration".

"We've got to be sure we pass legislation that puts in place permanent protections", Titus said. "The biggest growth phase was during the (George W.) Bush administration, when we were facing SWAT team raids, and prosecutions on a almost weekly basis in California".

Q: Will this affect medical marijuana? "Without that support, it's hard to see how the industry keeps growing", Sabet said.

The change, he said, removes "clarity and consistency" for an industry that depended on it.

"No matter what the (Trump) administration does, states will continue to hand out licenses to a long line of businesses clamoring for them", Dayton said.

Q: Can congress reverse Sessions' action - and would lawmakers be inclined to do so?

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