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AG Sessions rolls back Obama pot prosecution policies

When California legalized medical marijuana some 20 years ago, this state’s cannabis industry took off and now is the largest and most firmly entrenched in the nation. On January 1, California’s new law decriminalizing marijuana production, sale and recreational usage went into effect. Los Angeles and San Francisco are expected to immediately begin issuing dispensary licenses, and over 100 dispensaries have already begun selling recreational marijuana.

Three days later, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors rescinding the Obama-era hands-off policies regarding prosecution of marijuana crimes in states that have legalized it. Given that federal law still considers marijuana to be an illegal drug, federal prosecutors now have far greater flexibility to prosecute, regardless of state laws to the contrary. California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom immediately recommended that the 29 states where some form of pot is legal band together to work around the new federal policy.

Confusion and uncertainty are sure to increase as to exactly what is legal in California and other marijuana-liberal states. One California cannabis attorney reported that he already has received numerous calls from clients requesting guidance on how to defend themselves against possible drug charges. His response is that the marijuana industry will “aggressively defend our rights” that have been granted by state law.

Growers and distributors are fearful that the new federal policy puts their businesses at risk for being shut down. They also fear that they may be charged with a federal crime for engaging in what their state considers to be a legal business. At best, the new policy puts everyone in a state of uncertainty. Businesses and individuals might do well to contact an attorney with regard to exactly what is legal.

Source: The New York Times, “Trump Administration Takes Step That Could Threaten Marijuana Legalization Movement, ” Charlie Savage and Jack Healy, Jan. 4, 2018

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