U.S. Department of Justice officials met to discuss potential changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced.
“We’re working on that very hard right now,” he said on Wednesday. “We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length. It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental and we should not give encouragement in any way to it. And it represents a federal violation which is in the law and is subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges that we face.”
Sessions was responding to questions from reporters at a press conference about new initiatives to combat opioid trafficking.
“We’ve got fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription drugs and marijuana and other drugs. So we’ll be working our way through to a rational policy,” he said. “But I don’t want to suggest in any way that this Department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it.”
The comments come just two weeks after Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee that the Trump administration was continuing, at least for now, an Obama-era policy of generally respecting the right of states to set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
“Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes,” Sessions said at the time, referring to his attorney general predecessors during the Obama administration.
Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, previously said that the Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes.
Under the so-called “Cole Memo,” named after the former Eric Holder deputy 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 criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws.
But in April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration 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.
Last week, Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said it would be a mistake for Sessions to interfere with state marijuana laws.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.