WASHINGTON – The Donald Trump administration is rescinding the protections provided to states that have legalized marijuana, dealing a heavy blow to the movement to legalize and decriminalize pot use in the US.
In an initiative that chilled optimism among defenders of the medical and recreational use of marijuana, the administration on Thursday overturned a regulation approved by former President Barack Obama that prevented federal interference in states’ decisions regarding relaxing laws against the drug, provided they abided by a series of rules.
According to a statement released by the Justice Department, Attorney General Jess Sessions on Thursday issued a memorandum in which he instructed federal prosecutors around the country to decide how aggressively to enforce federal law prohibiting pot use.
“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the (Justice) Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” considering the seriousness of the crime and its impact on the community, Sessions said in the one-page memo.
He said that it was the Justice Department’s mission to ensure that the laws are enforced and complied with, adding that the previous directives regarding marijuana use undermined that mission.
He said that overturning the previous rule simply calls upon prosecutors to use the pre-Obama rules, which he added provide the tools they need to go after criminal organizations and quell what he said was the growing drug crisis and the increase in violent crime around the country.
Federal law holds that recreational or medical use of marijuana is illegal and Sessions’ decision, in effect, instructs prosecutors to ensure that it takes precedence over state laws that have decriminalized pot use.
Since 2013, when the Justice Department under Obama approved his directive on marijuana use, the federal government had opted to take a more lax stance vis-a-vis pot regulations at the state level, declining to impose federal regulations on the states except when state regulations conflict with other federal laws.
Currently, 29 states have approved laws making the use of marijuana for medical purposes legal, while seven have done so for recreational use of pot.
California was the most recent state – on Jan. 1 – to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which was anticipated to become at least a $7 billion per year business.
Session’s initiative contradicts the statements made by Trump during his presidential campaign affirming that marijuana regulations should be decided by the states.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado warned on Twitter on Thursday that he will take “all necessary steps” to ensure that the attorney general is not able to terminate the Obama rule on pot use, backing the stance that Trump had taken on the matter during the campaign.