Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of federal marijuana policy Wednesday, renewing anxieties within the industry that the Trump administration will interfere with state pot laws.
Sessions sent a memo outlining the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) various plans to tackle rising rates of violent crime. It calls for a review of the department’s stance on policing, sentencing penalties and marijuana. Officials in the Trump administration have differentiated between medical and recreational marijuana laws, signaling a possible crackdown would focus on the latter, but rhetoric from DOJ remains vague, reports CBS News.
In the memo, Sessions orders a “review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime.” While the language is causing industry fears, some experts doubt the administration will interfere with state laws given the growing bipartisan support on the issue.
“This is just the first we’ve seen about the process by which changes might be considered,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that huge majorities of Republicans and Democrats support letting states implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. Any Justice Department crackdown led by Sessions will create enormous political problems for the larger administration, especially since President Trump repeatedly pledged on the campaign trail that he would respect state cannabis laws.”
Sessions, a stanch opponent of legalization, previously stated his intent to review the Cole Memorandum, a set of guidelines established in 2013 that direct DOJ to focus marijuana enforcement efforts on violent crimes and distribution in states without legalization laws. Sessions claimed in February “there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think, and there’s big money involved.”
The governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana, sent a letter to Sessions and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin Monday, imploring them to leave marijuana policy to the states. The governors say they previously opposed legal weed but argue the policy is boosting revenue and helping reduce the “inequitable incarceration” of minority groups.
“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors said in the letter.” Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sent a letter to Sessions March 2 asking for similar federal restraint on marijuana policy. Nine other senators, all Democrats, signed onto the letter saying states’ efforts should not be impeded.
Sessions and the Trump administration could cost the marijuana industry hundreds of thousands of jobs if they interfere with state pot laws. A report released in February by New Frontier Data projects that an unimpeded marijuana market will create more than 250,000 jobs by 2020. The booming projections for growth stand in stark contrast to manufacturing jobs, which are expected to crater by more than 800,000 by 2024.
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