The Politics of Cannabis
Jeff Sessions’ Reversal of Obama-era Marijuana Policy Threatens Legalized Sales
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he will rescind the federal policy that takes a hands off approach to states’ legalized marijuana, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Instead Sessions will allow federal prosecutors in areas where the substance is legal to decide how aggressively to enforce federal drug laws, two sources with knowledge of the matter told the AP ahead of a formal announcement expected Thursday.
This news comes just after the first sales of legal recreational pot in California on Jan. 1 and Nevada in July 2017.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use of marijuana. The reversal of the Cole Memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013 means that there will be more confusion about the legality of growing, selling, and using the drug in places where state and local laws clash with the federal government.
States Push Back
State Lawmakers Push Back On Federal Anti-Marijuana Moves
This month the Trump administration tore up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
But states aren’t taking the change sitting down.
On Monday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law a cannabis legalization bill that legislators in his state approved just hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the federal marijuana protections.
New Hampshire’s House of Representatives also approved a legalization bill days after the Sessions move.
And in a number of other states, lawmakers have filed legislation or resolutions forcefully pushing back on what they see as a federal attack on their marijuana policy prerogatives.
In Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Washington State, lawmakers are considering bills to prevent state and local officials from assisting federal agents in any actions against legal marijuana businesses, effectively making them “sanctuary states” for cannabis.
Jeff Sessions faces a steep uphill battle in his war on pot
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to announce on Thursday the repeal of Obama-era rules that set a federal policy of noninterference with state-legal marijuana businesses, setting up a potential clash between the federal government and state authorities backing an increasingly entrenched and popular industry.
Currently, eight states plus the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana within their borders. The change in policy would allow U.S. attorneys in those jurisdictions to pursue prosecutions against state-legal marijuana growers, sellers and even users.
Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance, akin to heroin. But during President Barack Obama’s administration, the Department of Justice pursued a policy of noninterference with state-legal marijuana markets provided the states take reasonable steps to prevent underage use and keep pot from flowing across state borders, among other conditions.
Vermont Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Into Law
Vermont is officially the ninth state to legalize marijuana, and the first to end cannabis prohibition through an act of lawmakers
“I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children,” Gov. Phil Scott (R) said in a statement accompanying a legalization bill he signed into law on Monday.
Under the legislation’s provisions, people over 21 years of age will be allowed to to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow as many as two mature and four immature cannabis plants.
Commercial marijuana sales will not be allowed under the new law, which is set to take effect on July 1.
All eight other states that had previously legalized marijuana did so via voter-approved ballot initiatives.
Vermont’s legislative move signals a milestone in the evolving politics of marijuana. Polls consistently show majority voter support for legalization, and more politicians are beginning to see the issue as a winning one they should embrace rather than run away from.
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