Federal prosecutors will not waste time on minor marijuana cases, regardless of the Justice Department’s announcement of lifting an Obama-era policy that discouraged U.S. authorities from cracking down on marijuana industries in states where it’s been legalized, according to a new statement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Federal law enforcement just does not have the resources to take on “routine cases” and will focus on drug-related gangs and other large conspiracies, according to Sessions, The Press Democrat reports. The comments came after the Trump administration sent the blossoming marijuana legalization industry into uncertainty by rescinding the hands-off approach of the Obama administration.
The Obama-era policy allowed the marijuana industry to flourish, with nine states legalizing recreational marijuana use. The reversal has increased confusion regarding whether it’s okay to grow, buy or use marijuana in states that have legalized it, since it remains illegal federally. It also raised concerns that prosecutors would be empowered to imprison individuals for marijuana possession.
Sessions said, “I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law.” He added that federal prosecutors “haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now.”
Areas of particular interest include problems that federal authorities have tried to tackle for some time, like illicit marijuana cultivation operations on national parklands and gangs that sell marijuana along with dangerous drugs like meth and heroine. Some law enforcement officials in marijuana-legal states argue the legalization has caused unintended problems such as black-market marijuana cultivations and illegal dealings by people that aren’t interested in complying with state law.
It remains to be seen, however, whether prosecutors will seek to punish state-licensed marijuana businesses. Some state U.S. attorneys have said that they have no plans to do so. Sessions said, “Those are the kinds of things each one of those U.S. attorneys will decide how to handle.”