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Sessions Admits Feds Can’t Effectively Police Marijuana In States

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged on Saturday that the Department of Justice does not have enough resources to enforce prohibition against everyone who violates federal marijuana laws.

“We’re not going to be able, even if we desired, to take over state enforcement of routine cases that might occur,” he said, referring to the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis. “Federal agents are highly paid, highly trained, and they work on cases involving cartels, international organizations, major distribution networks, large amounts of cash. And they deal with criminal organizations, RICO-type cases. And we’re not out there prosecuting those cases every day.”

Nonetheless, the attorney general made clear he believes that DEA agents should be able to enforce federal marijuana laws against anyone who violates them, regardless of state law.

“The law of the United States of America, in case you haven’t heard, applies in every state in the United States,” he said. “And I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law.”

Sessions also took a swipe at the medical use of cannabis that is now legal in more than half the states.

“I don’t think it’s healthy, either,” he said. “If I were sick I wouldn’t suggest you take marijuana to cure yourself. I’m not sure it’s proven to be particularly helpful.”

In January, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that generally allowed states to enact their own laws on marijuana without federal interference.

Sessions Rescinds Memo On State Marijuana Laws

“I believe it’s a rule of law question,” Sessions said on Saturday, arguing that the interpretation of the now-defunct Obama policy was “incorrect legally.”

Sessions’s new remarks, which he made in response to an audience question at a Federalist Society event at Georgetown University Law Center, were first reported by the Associated Press.

Going forward, the attorney general said, the feds would be focused not on “small marijuana cases,” but instead on “criminal enterprise” that is “being done on federal lands and parklands and doing destruction to our park system.”

Such activity was designated as that which could trigger enforcement actions under the earlier Obama guidance as well.

The big unanswered question remains to what extend federal law enforcement and prosecutors in Sessions’s department will seek to go after state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and sellers that operate in accordance with local policies.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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