In a one-page memo issued Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back long-standing Obama-era guidelines concerning the way Federal prosecutors should approach cases related to marijuana consumption and sale. The conflict between state and federal law has been a hot issue at least since 2012, when Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Jeff Sessions has stated that it is up to Congress to change federal law regarding marijuana, and until such a change occurs, it is up to him as Attorney General to enforce federal laws as they are. The Obama era guidelines gave some leeway on this point, stating that prosecutors should leave states well enough alone when it comes to legalizing marijuana, as long as these local decisions didn’t interfere with federal law enforcement primary directives. Evidently, Jeff Sessions considers these 2013 guidelines to go against the letter of the law.
Weed users in the US are living in a pretty precarious situation. Their home state might have legalized the drug (and indeed, 29 US states have passed medical marijuana laws so far, with 8 states, plus the District of Columbia, legalizing recreational use as well), but federal prosecutors and marshals are still well within their rights to arrest anyone found using or selling the drug. On one hand, local laws legitimize businesses, which bring significant extra income into states’ coffers. On the other hand, growers and distributors continue to be very secretive about their operations, in order to fly under the radar of federal authorities.
Mr. Sessions’ memo already drew the ire of representatives of states where Marijuana is legal. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner stated shock at the decision, as it would apparently contradict private assurances received from Mr. Sessions before his appointment. There is talk of resistance and even retribution.
However, Jeff Sessions’ stand point is strictly speaking correct. So far, marijuana is considered a drug as dangerous as heroine under US Federal Law. Use and distribution of the drug can land a person in jail for as much as 20 years. As long as Congress doesn’t revise the law in accordance with the wishes of voters in at least 29 US states, the Attorney General office is tasked precisely with applying it as is.