The Trump administration's move comes just days after recreational cannabis became legal in the state of California and as L.A. leaders predict it could bring up to $100 million in new tax revenue annually for the city.
Announcing a "return to the rule of law", Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded five key memos issued by the administration of president Barack Obama that discouraged enforcement of federal laws, which still classify marijuana as a unsafe narcotic like heroin. On January 4, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman made similar remarks at a press conference. "These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General".
4 issued a memo to all USA attorneys suggesting that they resume enforcement of federal law that defines cannabis as a risky drug and cannabis activity as serious crime.
It also created uncertainty for banks, already fearful about business relationships with the marijuana industry because of concerns they might run afoul of anti-money laundering rules. "Placing numerous businesses, consumers, and medical patients at risk is not a responsible decision".
U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, Billy J. Williams, responded to the memo by saying that the Attorney General is asking that U.S Attorneys use the reasoned exercise of discretion when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana crimes.
Dispensaries are still open despite Sessions's wishes.
However, the 2013 "Cole memo" served as a directive for how USA attorneys should handle the legalization of marijuana in order for the federal government to exercise a hands-off approach to states legalization. Purchasing and possessing pot products is still legal in Colorado and other states that have regulated it.
The long-dreaded fear of a federal crackdown on marijuana sales in states that legalized the drug is alive and well.
Growing marijuana might be a little riskier on a large scale.
There has been a surge in legalization of marijuana at the state level in recent years.
Under the state's medical marijuana law enacted in 2014, NY has 1,384 medical practitioners and 40,286 certified patients. They are surrounded by attorneys who have spent their careers arguing federal cases before judges who can make their displeasure with a USA attorney known in sentencing decisions and in the scheduling of cases. But if you're flying under the radar with a small-but-illegal operation, why risk it?
Walsh, the former US attorney for Colorado, said sitting and incoming top federal prosecutors in pot-friendly states should rely on their staffs, who have years of experience investigating cases, to put marijuana in context with other priorities. While Vicente isn't telling any of his clients to head for the hills, he is telling them to be extra careful. But they can push legislation to protect marijuana sales.
Medical marijuana is safe.for now.
"Marijuana continues to be against federal law", said one Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The move essentially shifts federal policy from the hands-off approach adopted under the previous administration to unleashing federal prosecutors across the country to decide individually how to prioritize resources to crack down on pot possession, distribution and cultivation of the drug in states where it is legal.
"Opening the door to go after legal marijuana businesses ignores the will of the majority of Americans and marks yet another socially unjust and economically backward scheme from this administration", Wyden said.