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January 04, 2018

Sessions Announces Federal Crackdown On Legal Pot

UPDATE: The order's been issued. It's here. WASHINGTON, D.C.—Just four days after the largest state in the union, California, began legal sales of marijuana for recreational use, Attorney General of the United States Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a staunch and longtime opponent of marijuana use, has announced that he will issue an order later today that will end federal "hands-off" policies for states that have legalized pot for either medical or personal recreational use. According to a report on Buzzfeed.com, in anticipation of Sessions' order, senior Justice Department officials "stressed that they wanted U.S. attorneys, who are assigned to districts around the country, to use their discretion to determine whether someone should face federal charges for a marijuana offense." "I think that U.S. attorneys need to determine what cases need to be brought in their district and if they believe additional prosecutions are necessary," one of the officials said during a briefing with reporters Thursday morning. Though lengthy and protracted legal battles over legal marijuana likely lie ahead, Sessions’ elimination of Obama-era policies stopping federal authorities from enforcing anti-pot laws in states that legalize the drug—first reported Thursday morning by The Associated Press—has the potential to end or at least slow the trend toward nationwide marijuana legalization, and make pot users and retailers in states where use is legal vulnerable to arrest by the feds. California voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana use and sale in 2016, and the law went into effect on January 1 of this year, creating what would likely become the world’s largest legal marijuana market. But marijuana users counting on the protection of California’s laws, as well as laws in 32 other states plus the District of Columbia, which legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, could now fall victim to federal law, which still outlaws marijuana and allows for arrest and prosecution of pot users and dealers.  Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, and the Republican U.S. Senator from that state, Cory Gardner, pledged that he would oppose any move by Sessions to curtail the state’s law. "This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states," Gardner posted on his Twitter account Thursday morning. "I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation." In 2013, President Barack Obama issued a written directive preventing federal  authorities from enforcing anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. But Sessions has now severely restricted that directive, instead allowing federal prosecutors to decide whether to pursue marijuana enforcement in some situations even in “legal pot” states. The new Sessions policy is expected, perhaps more importantly, to discourage private investment in the legal marijuana business, which has become a booming industry, with the market in California alone expected to generate more than $5 billion in sales by 2019. "This is a victory," Kevin Sabet, chief of the anti-pot group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said, as quoted by Bloomberg News. "It's going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years." Sessions has long been on record with his belief that the dangers of marijuana are similar to those posed by hard drugs such as heroin, and that legal marijuana sales in states such as Colorado have led to increases in crime and violence, despite statistics showing the opposite. The American public also shows widespread and rising support for legalizing marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll. Taken in October, the poll showed 64 percent of Americans now favoring the legalization of pot, the highest figure recorded in the half-century that Gallup has polled on the marijuana question.  As recently as 2011 only about 50 percent of Americans supported legalizing marijuana, and throughout the 1990s that figure stayed stable at a mere 25 percent, give or take a few points.  

 
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