Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a directive to U.S. attorneys, taking back Obama-era directives that relaxed enforcement of federal pot laws on states in which it is legal.
Citing the memo sent to U.S. attorneys on Thursday (Jan. 4), The Washington Postreported that Sessions undid several Obama administration memos that urged against pot prosecutions in states where it’s legal for both recreational and medical use. Sessions, who noted that it’s against federal law to possess or sell marijuana, said it is up to the prosecutors to pursue cases, while taking into account the resources of the department, the seriousness of the crime and whether or not the action will serve as a deterrent.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said in a statement. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis and thwart violent crime across our country.”
The move could enable the federal government to clamp down on the pot industry, reported The Washington Post, noting that it is too early to determine the impact of this memo. The news drew widespread criticism, including from some in Sessions’ own Republican party. According to the report, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said on Twitter that the move “directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation,” and added that he could hurt the nominations to the Justice Department as a result.
“With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states,” he wrote. “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney General in Colorado released a statement that prosecutors in the state already follow the guidelines put out in the memo.