Legal pot pits California against the Justice Dept.

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The Justice Dept. issued a memo Thursday rescinding an Obama policy that eased federal enforcement of marijuana laws, in a move that seems to indicate a direct threat to states like California.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom responded:

Jeff Sessions has destructively doubled down on the failed, costly, and racially discriminatory war on drugs, ignoring facts and logic, and trampling on the will of CA voters. Have no doubt — CA will pursue all options to protect our reforms and rights.

It is unclear how the statement from US Attorney General Sessions will affect what seems to be a nationwide move towards pot legalization. Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. have laws allowing marijuana use in some form; eight of them have legalized recreational marijuana. With California joining the legal pot market, the marijuana industry had been projected to keep growing. 

Speaking to Press Play, Professor at Santa Clara University Law School and the Chair of the Public Safety Working Group  W. David Ball said the move could be a way to chill enthusiasm in other states looking to legalize pot.

However, in terms of enforcement, it’s still up to individual federal prosecutors. “I’m not really clear on what the directives are, my guess would be, if I wanted to shut down legal marijuana industry from the federal level, I’d pick a few big players and go after them,” he said. “But it’s really anyone’s guess what happens.”

(Photo: Saul Gonzalez)