Marijuana Industry Braces For Looming Federal Crackdown From Sessions

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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A report on crime rates and public safety from the Trump administration is due out this week and is expected to contain recommendations for restricting state marijuana laws.

The marijuana industry is anxiously awaiting a report from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which they fear will advocate that Attorney General Jeff Sessions interfere with state legalization laws. Industry experts note that Sessions has recently stepped up his rhetoric on the threat of violent crime in the U.S., which he partially links to greater access to marijuana, reports The Hill.

Sessions charged the task force with reviewing existing federal policy on marijuana legalization and providing recommendations to him no later than July 27. Officials have also been reviewing the Cole Memorandum, a set of guidelines established in 2013 that directs the DOJ to focus marijuana enforcement efforts on violent crimes and distribution in states without legalization laws.

Industry insiders predict that the task force will recommend increased prison sentences for users, distributors and growers of marijuana. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker recently slammed Sessions as “one of the greatest threats to the safety of our local communities in America,” for threatening state legalization laws.

“If you try to start prosecuting marijuana…you create more violence and more danger as well as greater government cost,” Booker told The Hill on Sunday. “These policies that he’s doing ultimately go to the core of the safety of our communities. If we can overcome Strom Thurmond’s filibuster against the civil rights bill, we can overcome a U.S. Attorney General who is out of step with history and out of step with his party.”

Sessions, a stanch opponent of marijuana legalization, has made numerous attempts to encroach on state legalization laws since becoming attorney general.

letter from Sessions to Congress leaked June 13 showing that he petitioned lawmakers to scale back legal protections for medical marijuana.

In the letter sent to Congress in May, Sessions asks that they dismantle the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which passed in 2014 and prevents the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute individuals in states with medical legalization.

Sessions argues that these protections undermine the DOJ’s ability to combat the illegal drug trade.

Sessions cites the current drug epidemic involving opioids as reason to remove the restrictions placed on the Justice Department. Federal officials estimate that drug overdoses killed more than 60,000 Americans in 2016. Recent research, however, suggests that legal marijuana is helping reduce abuse rates of prescription drugs.

A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in March found that hospitalization rates for opioid abuse and dependence in states with medical marijuana are roughly 23 percent lower than states without legal access.

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.

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