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Colorado trial attorneys

AG Sessions: Federal prosecutors won’t prioritize pot possession

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP March 15, 2018

Despite recent moves to make it easier for federal prosecutors to crack down on marijuana crimes, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that they probably won’t be doing so. That’s because federal law enforcement simply doesn’t have the resources to spend time on “routine cases.” Instead, it will continue to prioritize drug conspiracies and gang activity.

Earlier this year, Sessions made the news by reversing Obama-era guidance to federal prosecutors. That guidance had recommended that U.S. Attorneys avoid applying harsh mandatory minimums to low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. He also withdrew other Obama-era policies that prevented the federal government from cracking down on legal weed.

The Obama administration had overall applied a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in states where cannabis is legal for medical or recreational purposes. That policy had allowed marijuana legalization and created a thriving marijuana industry in a number of states.

One of the Obama-era policy memos overturned by Sessions was the so-called “Cole memo.” That memo gave federal prosecutors permission to focus their resources on non-marijuana crimes, especially in legalization states, as long as those states continued to cooperate with the federal government on priorities such as fighting cartels, preventing illegal distribution of legal weed, and preventing children from getting hold of the drug.

Sessions’ withdrawal of the Cole memo threw the legal marijuana industry into confusion, although Sessions did not specifically call for federal prosecutions in legalization states. The industry has been awaiting further clues on Sessions’ plans.

“I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law,” Sessions said recently after a speech at Georgetown Law. That said, he admitted that federal law enforcement has more important priorities. He added that the U.S. attorneys “haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now.”

Sessions said he will leave it up to each U.S. attorney to make his or her own priority decisions regarding marijuana. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado has said that his office will not prioritize a crackdown on otherwise legal marijuana. Instead, it will continue to focus on fighting the black market and preventing children’s access to the drug.