Yesterday Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the current Attorney General of the United States, announced that he was rescinding the Obama-era policy of not prosecuting marijuana cases in federal courts in those states that have legalized the use and cultivation of marijuana. This announcement coincided with the enactment of California’s legalization law.
Even though the President himself has not made his views on marijuana public, Sessions is a long-time opponent of its use. He once said that he admired the KKK until he found out they smoked marijuana, but later called the comment a joke.
Why is Sessions doing this? The obvious answer is that Trump is out to destroy every vestige of the Obama administration’s history and this was just the next item on the list. Given Sessions’ attitude about race, however, another reason raises its ugly head.
A Human Rights Watch report found that nearly half of all drug possession arrests in 2015 were for marijuana possession. And while the report also confirmed black and white Americans use marijuana at the same rate, in 2014, black adults accounted for just 14 percent of those who used drugs in the previous year but close to a third of those arrested for drug possession.
What can Congress do? Just about anything it wants. It could legalize marijuana entirely, though that course is fraught with problems. It could prohibit the feds from prosecuting simple possession with no intent to distribute across state lines, or any combination of solutions.
What can the courts do? Not much. The Supreme Court has already spoken (Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005)) ruling that Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown marijuana even if states approve its use. The ball is clearly in Congress’ camp.
What did Sessions say? He leaves it up to the individual US Attorneys to decide. Some (or even many) may decide to do nothing. They will still prosecute grows on federal and tribal lands, which cause untold damage to the environment.
Others may see it as a chance to carry out personal mandates or curry favor with the administration. For example,
Colorado’s U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, said his office won’t change its approach to prosecution, despite Sessions’ guidance. Prosecutors there have always focused on marijuana crimes that “create the greatest safety threats” and will continue to be guided by that, Troyer said.
Colorado is one of the states that has legalized marijuana.
On the other hand,
In California’s Eastern District, newly sworn-in U.S. Attorney McGregor “Greg” Scott grew up in Humboldt County, deep in California’s famed “Emerald Triangle” marijuana-growing region. He later became a career state and federal prosecutor who has spoken favorably of a previous federal marijuana crackdown.
The immediate effect has been to throw the budding industry into disarray and uncertainty.
“There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it’s also the beginning of the story and not the end,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. “This is a victory. It’s going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years.”
Of course, chaos is what Trump does best.