Locals wait for clarity on federal marijuana policy

Posted January 08, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.: The US Justice Department on Thursday (Friday in Manila) 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.

Terry Blevins, who is part-owner of a marijuana distribution company in California, says his phone rang off the hook Thursday with people concerned about a crackdown. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump's top priority was enforcing federal law "whether it's marijuana or immigration". How will the change in policy affect the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry? Trump told a TV news reporter that the decision to legalize marijuana should be left "up to the states".

"The whole point was to do what we could to maintain some control in this area", said Jim Cole, former deputy attorney general and now a partner at Sidley Austin in Washington.

"One wonders if Trump was consulted - it is Jeff Sessions after all - because this would violate his campaign promise not to interfere with state marijuana laws".

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"There needs to be a difference of view between medical marijuana and recreational use of marijuana", Governor Asa Hutchinson said.

Gardner said he would take all steps necessary to fight the measure, including possibly holding up the Senate from voting on pending Justice Department nominees. The Obama era guidelines gave some leeway on this point, stating that prosecutors should leave states well enough alone when it comes to legalizing marijuana, as long as these local decisions didn't interfere with federal law enforcement primary directives.

Congress voted in its last session to extend a spending provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocks the Justice Department from using federal funds to impede the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.

Sessions said he would let federal prosecutors in each state decide where they would focus their enforcement actions, but states that have legalized marijuana are not exempt from federal drug laws.

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"What Jeff Sessions wants to do is roll back all of that". "I want the Trump administration to stand by its promises". His legislation has support on both sides of the aisle, he insists, but members who oppose it have kept it from coming to a floor vote.

If not, that will leave even more people and businesses vulnerable.

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. This includes veterans, who have been choosing cannabis over prescription pills to treat symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"He represents something that is so un-American, as far as I'm concerned", the Texas libertarian said.

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"I think that we overly concentrate on the issue of the drug itself, and I concentrate on the issue of freedom of choice, on doing things that are of high risk", he said.