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Sessions targets legalized marijuana with directive

By
Danielle Haynes
A group of pro-legalization marijuana supporters take part in a protest at the White House on April 2, 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday told federal prosecutors to use discretion in prosecuting marijuana cases in states where the drug has been legalized. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
A group of pro-legalization marijuana supporters take part in a protest at the White House on April 2, 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday told federal prosecutors to use discretion in prosecuting marijuana cases in states where the drug has been legalized. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday rolled back an Obama-era directive saying the federal government should not interfere in the loosening of state marijuana laws.

Sessions' memo directs U.S. attorneys to enforce federal marijuana laws, undoing four directives under former President Barack Obama urging prosecutors not to pursue cases in states where recreational and medical marijuana use was legal.

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"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. "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."

Sessions urged federal prosecutors to determine whether cases should be pursued by weighing the seriousness of the crime, the department's resources and the deterrent effect they could impose.

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It's unclear to what extent U.S. attorneys may pursue criminal charges against marijuana sellers in states where it's legal. Eight states have fully legalized recreational-use pot -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- as well as Washington, D.C.

A Gallup poll in October found that 64 percent of Americans support legalizing pot.

Sen. Cory Gardner, D-Colo., said the Justice Department's memo "directly contradicts" Sessions's views on federal enforcement of marijuana laws during his confirmation hearing.

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"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," Gardner said.

Adam Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the memo was "disturbing."

"But, the rescinding of this memo does not necessarily mean that any major change in enforcement policy is on the horizon. This has been, and still will be, a matter of prosecutorial discretion. We therefore hope that Department of Justice officials, including U.S. Attorneys, will continue to uphold President Trump's campaign promise to not interfere with state cannabis programs, which have been overwhelmingly successful in undercutting the criminal market."

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Asked in a July 2016 interview with KUSA-TV in Denver whether he agreed with federal enforcement of marijuana laws on states like Colorado, Trump said, "I wouldn't do that."

"I think it's up to the states."

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