As states across the country move to legalize recreational marijuana, the federal government is doing just the opposite. Under the direction of President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ending long-standing federal policy of looking the other way at marijuana grow operations in the United States. Barack Obama and his administration refused to enforce federal marijuana offenses in the United States. Sessions is walking back that policy.
Sessions isn’t directing U.S. attorneys throughout the nation to aggressively go after marijuana growers. Instead, he’s leaving it up to each local U.S. attorney to make the judgment call. If the local U.S. attorney believes that it’s best to bring the charges, they’re able to bring the marijuana charges in federal court.
Obama’s representatives said that state marijuana regulations are “strong and effective.” They didn’t think it was necessary to put additional resources from the federal government into marijuana enforcement. Obama’s administration directed federal attorneys not to prioritize marijuana violations. Instead, they focused on violence, drug use and organized crime. Sessions and his supporters say that rooting marijuana out at the source will address problems of violence, drug use and organized crime too.
Some U.S. attorneys say that they’re hesitant to prosecute marijuana offenses if state law makes marijuana legal. Even though federal laws overrule state law, some say that it’s hard to enforce federal marijuana laws when the public perception is that marijuana use is legal. There’s nothing that a state or local government can do to override a federal law. However, defendants have a right to a jury trial in federal court, and prosecutors may encounter a practical problem of little support on the jury.
The marijuana debate is shaping up to be another point of controversy for the already controversial Sessions. California’s new year brought with it the state legalization of recreational marijuana use. Michigan also has new laws for commercialized production of marijuana. Now, federal attorneys are free to pursue prosecution of these establishments. The industry is up in limbo. Sessions’ supporters say that’s a good thing for public safety. Opponents say that it’s not good for the tax revenue that legalized marijuana is expected to generate.
Another question is the effect that the policy shift will have on medical marijuana production and distribution. There’s a federal law that prohibits U.S. officials from pursuing and prosecuting medical marijuana production. Some wonder if the policy shift will have a cooling effect on medical marijuana production in the United States.