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Marijuana Industry Not Freaking Out Over Threat Of Federal Crackdown

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Jeff Sessions officially reversed a set of Obama-era memos that had advised federal prosecutors in legal weed states to de-prioritize marijuana cases. Although the new guidance gives significant authority to U.S. attorneys in the eight states that have already legalized marijuana, the practical effect of the decision will ultimately depend on how they exercise it ― if they do at all.’ data-reactid=”17″>In an announcement Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially reversed a set of Obama-era memos that had advised federal prosecutors in legal weed states to de-prioritize marijuana cases. Although the new guidance gives significant authority to U.S. attorneys in the eight states that have already legalized marijuana, the practical effect of the decision will ultimately depend on how they exercise it ― if they do at all.

“The rescission of the [memos] doesn’t affect the industry at all. What affects the industry is when DEA agents start kicking down doors and U.S. attorneys begin prosecuting people,” said marijuana expert John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy think tank.

And there’s little reason to believe federal authorities will take Sessions up on the invitation to reignite the war on state-legal marijuana, said Patrick Moen, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who now serves as general counsel for Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that invests in marijuana companies.

“I still keep in touch with a lot of my former colleagues, and they are almost universally uninterested in maintaining cannabis prohibition,” Moen said. “The majority of U.S. attorneys feel similarly.”

Senior Justice Department officials who briefed reporters on the policy change on Thursday faced a barrage of questions about the Sessions memo. They struggled to articulate the message they intended to send to the marijuana industry, with one simply stating the obvious fact that “marijuana continues to be against federal law.” 

returns trust and local control to federal prosecutors” and allows DOJ to enforce the laws enacted by Congress, and Braverman noted that marijuana “cultivation, distribution, and possession” has long been against federal law. But his statement also acknowledged cold reality: His office can’t take on everything and would “continue to utilize long-established prosecutorial priorities to carry out our mission to combat violent crime, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and stem the rising tide of the drug crisis.” (U.S. attorneys for California’s other three districts have not yet weighed in.)’ data-reactid=”23″>Take a statement issued by Adam Braverman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California. He wrote that the Sessions memo “returns trust and local control to federal prosecutors” and allows DOJ to enforce the laws enacted by Congress, and Braverman noted that marijuana “cultivation, distribution, and possession” has long been against federal law. But his statement also acknowledged cold reality: His office can’t take on everything and would “continue to utilize long-established prosecutorial priorities to carry out our mission to combat violent crime, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and stem the rising tide of the drug crisis.” (U.S. attorneys for California’s other three districts have not yet weighed in.)

In Oregon, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said his office would continue to place an emphasis on “stemming the overproduction of marijuana and the diversion of marijuana out of state, dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities.” 

noted her office had already been prioritizing cases involving “organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana,” and said it would continue to focus resources on “those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve.” (Joseph Harrington, her colleague in the state’s Eastern District who is in the office on an interim basis, referred questions to Justice Department headquarters.)’ data-reactid=”28″>U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes of the Western District of Washington noted her office had already been prioritizing cases involving “organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana,” and said it would continue to focus resources on “those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve.” (Joseph Harrington, her colleague in the state’s Eastern District who is in the office on an interim basis, referred questions to Justice Department headquarters.)

stated his intent to “follow long-established principles to prosecute federal crime, including to combat the current drug crisis.”’ data-reactid=”32″>Halsey B. Frank, U.S. attorney for Maine, said he would consult with his staff before determining how the Sessions memo might affect charging decisions. He also stated his intent to “follow long-established principles to prosecute federal crime, including to combat the current drug crisis.”


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