WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday rescinded an Obama administration policy that had eased enforcement of federal marijuana legal guidelines in states that legalized the drug, as an alternative giving federal prosecutors broad latitude on pursuing prison prices.
The motion by Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have damaging penalties on the burgeoning marijuana trade within the six states together with California and Colorado which have legalized the drug for leisure use, plus dozens of others that let medicinal use.
Justice Department officers who briefed reporters in regards to the policy change declined to say whether or not the division may take authorized motion in opposition to these states, saying additional steps had been “still under consideration.”
Sessions, often called a powerful opponent of legalizing marijuana, stopped in need of immediately encouraging U.S. prosecutors to carry marijuana circumstances.
His motion, outlined in a one-page memo, drew condemnation from marijuana legalization advocates and politicians in each events who stated it trampled on the rights of voters in states the place the drug is now authorized and created uncertainty about how strictly federal medication legal guidelines shall be enforced.
The announcement got here three days after California formally launched the world’s largest regulated business marketplace for leisure marijuana.
The administration’s transfer raised questions on the way it may influence tax revenues in states that let some type of authorized marijuana use.
It additionally created uncertainty for banks, which have already been fearful about having a enterprise relationship with the marijuana trade as a consequence of issues they may run afoul of anti-money laundering guidelines.
The policy put in place beneath Democratic former President Barack Obama, outlined by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a sequence of memos, acknowledged marijuana as a “dangerous drug,” however stated the Justice Department anticipated states and localities that licensed varied makes use of of the drug to successfully regulate and police it.
The Obama-era policy had discouraged federal prosecutors from pursuing marijuana-related prison crimes in states that had legalized the drug. The Trump administration policy offers federal prosecutors across the nation discretion to implement the prevailing federal ban on marijuana.
There has been a surge in legalization of marijuana in U.S. states in recent times. Other states that let the regulated sale of marijuana for leisure use additionally embrace Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada. Massachusetts and Maine are on monitor to take action this 12 months.
California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, stated his state will pursue “all legal, legislative and political options to protect its reforms and its rights as a state.” He stated the Trump administration’s place “defies facts and logic.”
Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado stated on Twitter that the administration’s motion “directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation.”
Gardner added that he would take all steps essential to combat the measure, together with probably holding up the Senate from voting on pending Justice Department nominees.
The administration’s motion appeared incongruous with feedback that Trump made through the 2016 presidential marketing campaign. Trump advised a TV information reporter that the choice to legalize marijuana needs to be left “up to the states.”
Among corporations which have invested within the trade, Scotts Miracle-Gro, a gardening product producer, has spent a whole lot of tens of millions of to accumulate corporations that promote soil, lighting, fertilizer and different merchandise to marijuana growers. Shares within the firm dropped three.eight % to $104.54 after the information of the policy shift, earlier than paring losses later within the morning. Several Canadian marijuana-related shares additionally fell sharply.
Sessions has made no secret about his disdain for marijuana. He has stated the drug is dangerous and shouldn’t be legalized, and has additionally referred to as it a gateway drug for opioid addicts.
The Sessions memo didn’t distinguish between enforcement in opposition to marijuana used for leisure versus medicinal functions. But his division’s capacity to pursue prison prices associated to medicinal marijuana stays doubtful.
Since 2014, federal lawmakers have connected language to spending laws that explicitly bars the Justice Department from spending sources to implement circumstances in states the place medicinal marijuana is authorized.
The San Francisco-based ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 dominated that the Justice Department can’t prosecute individuals over medicinal marijuana in the event that they complied with their state’s guidelines and rules. But the ruling held that individuals who violate the medicinal marijuana legal guidelines of their states can face federal prison prosecution.
A process power created beneath a Trump February 2017 government order, comprised of prosecutors and different legislation enforcement officers, was supposed to review marijuana enforcement, together with different policy areas, and concern suggestions.
Its suggestions had been due in July 2017, however the Justice Department has not made public what the duty power decided was acceptable for marijuana. Department officers on Thursday declined to reveal what the duty power really useful.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham and Frances Kerry