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Justice Department ends policy allowing states to legalize marijuana

Justice Department ends policy allowing states to legalize marijuana

Jan 5, 2018

WASHINGTON – On Monday, California became the latest – and largest – state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a policy introduced by the Obama administration that allowed states to legalize the drug.

Federal law regulates marijuana (i.e., all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not) under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the highest classification for substances with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.

In 2013 the Obama administration issued a memo to the Department of Justice’s U.S. attorneys directing federal prosecutors to focus on eight areas of enforcement rather than spending time targeting individual users. The memo did not change the CSA but allowed for broad prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether to enforce federal laws related to marijuana.

Sessions rescinded that policy and issued his own memo, which states that, “In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.” A press release from the Justice Department also said, “This return to the rule of law is also a return of trust and local control to federal prosecutors who know where and how to deploy Justice Department resources most effectively to reduce violent crime, stem the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantle criminal gangs.”

It’s unclear how much the new policy will affect the medical marijuana industry. Currently, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. The amendment, which has to be renewed every year, expires January 19.

It’s also unclear how the policy change will affect the eight states and the District of Columbia which currently allow recreational use and possession of small amounts of the drug.

Reporting by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article was originally published in the Jan. 5 edition of the ERLC's weekly email newsletter, "The Weekly." For more information visit erlc.com.

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