As marijuana grows into a multimillion dollar industry, Attorney General Jeff Sessions aims to impose harsher federal regulations. AP News reports that Sessions plans to rescind an Obama-era policy that allows states to gradually legalize marijuana for recreational use, giving federal prosecutors free reign in targeting buyers and sellers. Sources confirmed Sessions’ decision to other media outlets.
Written by former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013, the Obama policy entrusts states to choose a path toward legalization without obstruction from the Justice Department. Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, with Maine and Massachusetts set to join later this year. On Monday, California legalized recreational marijuana use, allowing sellers to officially operate as cannabis retailers rather than medical dispensaries. Many experts project that marijuana sales alone in California alone will bring in $1 billion in tax revenue over the next few years.
If Sessions is successful in repealing the policy, further confusion will ensue over whether it’s legal to grow, buy or consume cannabis in states where marijuana is legal but prohibited by federal law. Though President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “national health emergency,” allocating funding to the Justice Department to fight against foreign drug cartels, his stance toward recreational marijuana is hazy. Sessions meanwhile has called weed “only slightly less awful than heroin.”
Lawmakers on both side of the aisle are preparing to fight Sessions’ initiative. Republican Colorado Governor Cory Gardner announced his willingness “to take all steps necessary, including holding Justice Department nominees” over Twitter. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders advocated allowing “states the right to move toward the decriminalization of marijuana” rather than reversing “the progress that has been made.”
Though the Trump administration has actively worked to roll back policies enacted under former President Barack Obama—including the Affordable Care Act, the Clean Climate Plan, and the Paris Climate Agreement—repealing marijuana laws that protect state rights contradict its grand strategy of a country governed by the free-market. With the GOP alliance over tax reform quickly fading, Republicans are back to infighting over the scope the federal government should play in regulating industry.