Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New AG Sessions memo on "Marijuana Enforcement" says very little but still could mean a lot

This new Politico article has a link to this new one-page memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to all US Attorneys on the topic of "Marijuana Enforcement."  Notably, the memo does little more than rescind the Cole and Ogden and related memos put forth through the Obama Administration.  It does not announce any formal or even informal new policy, but just says general DOJ policies and principles for all federal prosecution should govern.

Here is more about what this means (or does not mean) via the Politico article:

Sessions said future prosecutions would be up to individual U.S. attorneys. However, the announcement appeared intended to discourage marijuana-related business by being deliberately vague about future federal enforcement efforts. The effort will likely further muddle the legal status of marijuana for states that have passed legislation allowing people to grow, buy or use pot.

"Given the Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," Sessions said in a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide.

Justice Department officials who briefed reporters on the announcement declined to say whether the new policy was intended to increase federal prosecutions for marijuana-related crimes. “I can’t sit here and say whether it will or will not lead to more marijuana prosecutions,” said a senior DOJ official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We believe U.S. attorneys’ offices should be opened up to bring all of these cases that are necessary to be brought.”

Justice Department leaders said the Obama-era policies, most of them issued by Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, made marijuana industry players too comfortable in a business that has always been illegal under federal law. “The Cole memo as interpreted created a safe harbor for the marijuana industry to operate in these states. There is a belief that that is inconsistent with what federal law says,” the official said.

When states stepped up legalization efforts under the Obama administration, Justice Department officials considered the possibility of filing litigation aiming to head off such moves, but ultimately chose not to do so and to accommodate the state laws. “Further steps are still under consideration,” the current official said.

California, which had allowed medical marijuana use for years, opened its dispensaries to the general public without prescriptions on Jan. 1. Justice Department officials said they were unaware of any link between the timing of Sessions’ announcement and the Golden State’s recent shift. “This is something that has been under consideration at the department for a long time,” the official told reporters. “I know of nothing that ties it directly to that.”

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/01/new-ag-sessions-memo-on-marijuana-enforcement-says-very-little-but-still-could-mean-a-lot.html

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