Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era policy that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, creating new confusion about enforcement and use just three days after a new legalization law went into effect in California.
President Donald Trump’s top law enforcement official announced the change Thursday. Instead of the previous lenient-federal-enforcement policy, Sessions’ new stance will instead let federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce longstanding federal law prohibiting it.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today released the following statement:
“Attorney General Sessions’s reported decision is a direct attack on patients. Parents should be able to give their sick kids the medicine they need without having to fear that they will be prosecuted. Veterans should be able to come home from combat and use the medicine they need without having to fear they will be prosecuted. This is about public health, and it’s about reforming our broken criminal justice system that throws too many minorities in prison for completely nonviolent offenses. I urge my colleagues to join me in fighting this shortsighted decision and supporting my broadly bipartisan bill, the CARERS Act, to keep the federal government out of the way when doctors and patients decide that medical marijuana is the best treatment for them.”
Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Marijuana advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and will likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.
The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and keep it out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.