In the same week that legal sales of marijuana for recreational use began in California, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum ordering a “return to rule of law” and directing prosecutors to resume enforcing the federal government’s prohibition of pot.
The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 generally prohibits the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana. However, with states beginning to legalize marijuana, the Obama Administration issued guidance calling for federal prosecutors not to target pot businesses operating legally under state laws.
Sessions’ memo, issued Thursday, rescinds the Obama-era guidance and directs federal prosecutors to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing marijuana-related cases, a Department of Justice press release states. Sessions said in a statement that the new policy empowers federal prosecutors to reduce violent crime, stem the tide of the drug crisis and dismantle criminal gangs.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis and thwart violent crime across the country.”
Following Sessions’ order, another clash between the Trump Administration and the state of California appears imminent. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded to Sessions’ move by saying the state Department of Justice would protect California’s interests.
“In California, we decided it was best to regulate, not criminalize, cannabis. Unlike others, we embrace, not fear, change. After all, this is 2018 not the 20th Century,” Becerra said in a tweet. At the California Department of Justice we intend to vigorously enforce our state’s laws and protect our state’s interests.”
On Monday, California adults began legally purchasing marijuana for recreational use. The state is currently in the process of issuing retail licenses for pot businesses, and California is expected to have a multi-billion dollar marijuana market.