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Sessions Rescinds Memo On State Marijuana Laws



U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is moving to rescind Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

The move comes after nearly a year of conflicting signals from the attorney general about the Trump administration’s position on cannabis enforcement.

While President Trump pledged on the campaign trail to respect state laws, Sessions as a senator was long one of Congress’s most vocal legalization opponents.

Since being confirmed as attorney general last February, Sessions has said that the earlier Obama policy was “valid” and “valuable,” but also made clear that the Department of Justice was reviewing potential changes.

Under the so-called “Cole Memo,” named after the former Obama Justice Department deputy attorney general who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention. Those areas concern issues like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.

Last April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes.

However, that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force’s report to the attorney general.

More recently, in November, Sessions testified before Congress that the policy remained in effect. But he separately told reporters at a briefing that his department was actively conducting talks about potential changes to the policy.

Last month he held a closed-door meeting with longtime anti-legalization activists who urged him to step up federal marijuana enforcement.

A large number of members of Congress and state officials from both parties pushed back against the news.

Lawmakers React To Sessions Anti-Marijuana Move

In October, a Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, including majorities across party lines.

Sessions’s move was first reported Thursday morning by the Associated Press.

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 and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


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