Marijuana is now legal for medical purposes in 29 states and Washington, D.C. It is legal for recreational use in eight states and D.C. Nevertheless, it remains illegal under federal law. So far, the federal government has played along, but for how long?
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suggested that federal authorities may be about to crack down on marijuana use, even among legal marijuana users. He recently suggested that the Justice Department is planning changes to its cannabis policy.
“We’re looking at that very hard right now. We had a meeting yesterday and talked about it at some length,” he said at a recent press conference. He hinted that the Department of Justice has been working on a policy that would affect recreational marijuana states.
“We are working our way through to a rational policy, but I don’t want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it,” he said.
Currently, a congressional rider prevents federal authorities from interfering with state marijuana laws.
Sessions has said that the current policy is not very different from the previous administration’s view. Both policies recognized that, while states can legalize for their own purposes, marijuana is still illegal for federal purposes.
However, Sessions has made one dramatic change from the Obama-era policy. Under President Obama, U.S. Attorneys were instructed mostly to avoid federal prosecutions against low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Where prosecution was undertaken, federal prosecutors were to limit the harshest penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences. In other words, the Obama guidance to prosecutors was to avoid rocking the boat in legalization states.
In May, however, Sessions issued a memo rescinding that advice. Instead, U.S. Attorneys are to seek the harshest provable charges and to apply the appropriate penalties, including mandatory minimums.
Sessions has been a vocal opponent of both marijuana use and legalization. He has notoriously said that marijuana is just as harmful as heroin, although he seemed to back off from that stance somewhat in November. Nevertheless, he said that although he knows his views are “unfashionable” in today’s political climate, he believes many lives are at stake.
Here in Colorado, we’ve come to rely on people being able to purchase and consume marijuana for personal use without hassle. It would be quite a change to see federal law enforcement take an interest in legal marijuana users at this point.
If you have been arrested for use of legal weed, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer.