Attorney general

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Who will DOJ target with new marijuana posture?

by Chris Goldstein

State employees tasked with regulating cannabis are just criminal conspirators in vast enterprises involving federally illegal drugs. That sounds absurd, but it’s technically true.

 Now,  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has changed the position of the Department of Justice regarding state marijuana legalization laws. By rescinding several memos that served as policy directives for federal prosecutors the existential legal possibilities of the past could come into sharper focus.

So, what happens next? To get a forecast on the upcoming weed storm, it’s important to understand why Sessions and his associates care about the Obama-era position at all.

 In 2011 the first Cole memo was released in answer to N.J. Gov. Chris Christie stubbornly peppering the DOJ for “clarification” on medical marijuana (and I got the scoop for my blog).

A former U.S. Attorney in the early 2000s who was appointed by President George W. Bush for being a champion GOP fundraiser, Gov. Christie used his legal expertise to play the weed conflict like a Texas Hold’em champ. At the time, Christie bluffed about being wracked with worry that DEA agents could swoop in to arrest his N.J. Department of Health workers.

The “concerned about state employees” was a common angle used by some prohibitionist Republicans to vote against or even veto compassionate use laws. That’s what led David Ogden and James Cole – two Deputy U.S. Attorneys General under Eric Holder — to write the three memos between 2009 and 2013 addressing the idea of federal authorities trying to, physically, get in the way.

The Ogden and Cole memos crafted a clear diplomatic policy on marijuana between the federal government and the States, almost along the lines of an international agreement. It was refined and summarized as “non-interference.”

That was enough cover for state legislatures to pass safe access laws and state employees to implement full legalization ballot initiatives. The cash-flush marijuana industry crawled under the umbrella too, even if uninvited.

But, President Obama and his administration failed to make a permanent policy. By the time Donald Trump came into office federal marijuana laws hadn’t actually changed one millimeter.

Non-interference is also at the core of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, a federal budget rider that eliminates funding from any DOJ action that could interrupt state marijuana laws. In place since 2014, Rohrabacher-Blumenauer is set to expire on January 19 and Sessions has already asked Congress not to renew it.

In removing all these perceived barriers, the Trump administration is grooming a position from which to actively meddle. Speculation has focused on possible enforcement against those permitted to grow or sell the plant, but that seems unlikely.

On Jan. 4, 2018, the day Sessions rescinded the memos, David Freed, a US Attorney in Pennsylvania (and a Republican) immediately reassured the public that he won’t be shutting down any of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis facilities that are just sprouting seeds.

Freed’s sentiment was echoed across the country, and without the support of federal prosecutors, the DOJ is very limited indeed. A cornered Sessions may be forced to go further out on a legal limb, turning the old drug warriors’ concerns about health employees into a direct threat.

Chris Christie has also repeatedly used the phrase “blood money” to describe Colorado’s prolific cannabis tax revenue.  If the federal government begins to seriously view those taxes as illegal gains then perhaps Sessions’ other favorite and highly dubious criminal justice tactic will come into play: civil asset forfeiture.

Thankfully, the new DOJ posture towards America’s favorite flower brought instant condemnation from the public and all levels of elected officials, in both parties.

Cory Booker of New Jersey went to the floor of U.S. Senate to express the strong core of social justice that is driving the nation away from prohibition:

“The unequal application of marijuana laws has created a system where an outcome is more dependent on race and class than dependent on guilt or innocence.”

Senator Bob Casey was inspired to make his first major statement on cannabis policy, ever, while Gov. Tom Wolf showed his well-practiced resolve to the Trump administration. A cadre of state politicians in the region also chimed in. It was a moment of political maturity for marijuana legalization.

 

Read the full article HERE

Trump administration to end policies that let legal marijuana flourish

by Sam Wood & Justine McDaniel

The Trump Administration is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law in states where it is legal, according to a memo obtained Thursday by Politico.

The move adds to the confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy, or use marijuana in states where pot is legal since the long-standing federal law prohibits it.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), described the action as “unjust, backwards” and “wrong.”

“Jeff Sessions’ determination to revive the failed War on Drugs knows no bounds.” Booker said. “History has shown that our deeply broken drug laws disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color and cost us billions annually in enforcement, incarceration, and wasted human potential, without making us any safer. This unjust, backwards decision is wrong for America, and will prove to be on the wrong side of history.”

Session’s memo comes days after pot shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world’s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and, as polls show, a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.

New Jersey and Delaware have had medical marijuana programs for several years. Pennsylvania is set to make medicinal cannabis available in the coming months for patients suffering from any one of 17 serious health conditions. It was unclear Thursday morning how Session’s move will impact the state programs.

While Sessions has been carrying out an agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to pot policy reflect his own concerns. Trump previously has stated decisions about marijuana should be left to the states, but the president is known to change his mind on a whim.

Reaction in the Philadelphia region to the Sessions announcement was swift.

“Will Sessions single-handedly crush a $7.2 billion industry spanning 30 states, generating millions in taxes, and providing tens of thousands of jobs?” said Steve Schain, an attorney with the Hoban Law Group, a national firm with dozens of marijuana business clients.

Lindy Snider, a cannabis-industry investor who is prominent in Libertarian circles, said rescinding the Obama-era policy “makes absolutely no sense.”

“I’m so angry about it,” Snider said. “The government is supposed to operate at the will of the governed. That’s just part of the American Constitution. This should not be about Jeff Session’s opinions. Over 50 percent of Americans say legalize this. He better have a damn good plan.”

Read the full article HERE

While feds say states can’t legalize marijuana anymore, Pa. will leave medical pot alone

January 4th began as a milestone day for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program,  but it quickly took a turn that left some wondering if that might be the last one.

Hours after Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the all-clear was given for the state’s first dispensary to open, an official announcement came down from President Donald Trump’s U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he was changing direction in how the federal law with regard to marijuana is enforced.

In it, Sessions, who has said he believes marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to addiction, gave the green light to federal prosecutors to enforce the 48-year-old federal law prohibiting marijuana cultivation, distribution, and possession as they see fit.

That immediately put a number of the medical marijuana supporters across Pennsylvania on edge.

Patients with 17 qualifying medical conditions have been waiting for years to be able to legally buy home-grown medical marijuana products in Pennsylvania. Now they are only four months away from being able to do that, and then this happens.

Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t waste time in sending out a warning shot that he will do everything in his power to protect the state’s medical marijuana program from what he calls a federal overreach.

 

Read the full article HERE

Obama-era attorney general blasts Jeff Sessions over cannabis views

A U.S. attorney general under President Barack Obama laid into the nation’s current top law enforcement official and said that current AG Jeff Sessions has an “almost obsession with marijuana.”

Eric Holder – who served as U.S. attorney general from 2009 to 2015 – said during a speech at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York that, under his watch, the Department of Justice was correct to issue the 2013 Cole Memo and let states take the lead on regulating the cannabis industry, the Washington Examiner reported.

But Holder critiqued Sessions in his remarks and suggested the current attorney general’s approach to marijuana and support for states’ rights in Congress has put the DOJ in a “strange place.”

Holder also reiterated his support for the broad but nonbinding Cole Memo, which lays out various instances under which intervention by the DOJ could be warranted in the marijuana industry.

Read the full article HERE

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment extended until December

By John Schroyer

A key federal law protecting the medical marijuana industry from interference by the U.S. Department of Justice has been extended until Dec. 8 under the provisions of an emergency aid package approved Friday by Congress, Marijuana Business Daily has learned.

The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – which has had to be renewed annually by Congress and was formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr – was set to expire Sept. 30.

However, it will now remain in place for at least several more months. The amendment prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana programs, or from prosecuting MMJ businesses compliant with state law.

“That’s right … extended through Dec. 8,” a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one of the sponsors of the amendment, wrote to Marijuana Business Daily in an email.

The amendment’s future was thrown into doubt this week when the House Rules Committee blocked the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment – along with several other cannabis amendments – from receiving floor votes.

But an emergency aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey also extended the current federal budget, meaning that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment has received at least a stay of execution.

President Donald Trump signed the package into law Friday.

Amendment’s third reprieve

This is the third time the amendment has remained in place by default because Congress has kicked the can down the road on the federal budget: It survived two previous expiration dates in April and May, also without being voted on apart from the entire federal budget.

That, however, means the amendment’s future is still in doubt, said Massachusetts-based cannabis attorney Bob Carp.

“I do think it’s a coin flip. It’s only a three-month extension,” Carp said. “It makes me a bit uneasy.”

In the face of such federal uncertainty, and with a U.S. attorney general who is openly anti-marijuana, the marijuana industry must “start circling the wagons,” Carp added.

 

Read the full article HERE .

Two states rebut AG Sessions’ critiques of their cannabis laws

Governors in at least two states that have legalized recreational marijuana are pushing back against the Trump administration and defending their efforts to regulate the industry.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week asking the Department of Justice to maintain the Obama administration’s more hands-off enforcement approach to states that have legalized the drug.

The letter comes after Sessions sent responses recently to the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state after they asked the attorney general to allow the cannabis experiments to continue in the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana.

Sessions’ individual responses detailed concerns he had with how effective state regulatory efforts have been.

Washington state also responded to Sessions this week.

Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Sessions made claims about the situation in Washington state that are “outdated, incorrect or based on incomplete information.”

“If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us,” Inslee and Ferguson wrote.

Since taking office, Sessions has promised to reconsider marijuana policy, providing a level of uncertainty for states that have legalized the drug.

Read full article HERE

Task force tells AG Sessions to keep status quo for legal cannabis

– Associated Press

task force assembled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is giving him no ammunition to go after the legal marijuana industry, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety has offered no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views.

The group’s report largely reiterates the current Department of Justice’s policy on marijuana.

The task force encourages officials to keep studying whether to change or rescind the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to enforcement – a stance that’s allowed the nation’s experiment with legal cannabis to flourish.

The report was not slated to be released publicly, but portions were obtained by the AP.

The tepid nature of the recommendations signals just how difficult it would be for the DOJ to change course on cannabis.

Rather than urging federal agents to shut down dispensaries and make mass arrests, the task force puts forth a more familiar approach.

Read the full article Here