Federal pot policy change sparks confusion, crackdown fears

Georgia Reed
January 8, 2018

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump is convening Republican congressional leaders and some members of his Cabinet at Camp David this weekend.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, an advocacy group for marijuana producers, sellers and customers, said a crackdown would prompt businesses to focus on medical marijuana and move some recreational pot sales underground. They are surrounded by attorneys who have spent their careers arguing federal cases before judges who can make their displeasure with a US attorney known in sentencing decisions and in the scheduling of cases.

Nevada Democrats expressed outrage while Republicans took a wait-and-see approach Thursday after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for federal prosecutors to decide whether to pursue marijuana cases in their districts.

The announcement reversed a President Barack Obama-era memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, discouraging prosecutors from pursuing marijuana-related charges in states - including OR and Washington - where it has been legalized.

Recreational marijuana became legal for adults in California on January 1.

"I feel at this moment there's still just a lot of questions to be asked", said Oscar Nelson, co-owner of Sweet Relief Natural Medicine.

Brian Vicente, a Denver attorney who co-wrote Colorado's 2012 constitutional amendment legalizing recreation marijuana, said the industry will closely examine the background of any new US attorney nominees.

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But the emerging pot industry is rooted in shaky legal ground, complicating regulatory, financial and advertising issues.

While many states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, the drug is still illegal under federal law, creating a conflict between federal and state law. "I feel that this is just part of this industry, and I feel hopeful that logic will prevail".

The change allows for each state's USA attorney's to decide whether to aggressively enforce the federal marijuana law, even if it's also been made legal in their state.

However, it's not clear that the announcement will lead to drastic changes in the way that federal officials in OR handle pot. Sessions has railed against marijuana for years.

In the memo, Sessions emphasized that he "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".

"My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market", Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said. "This is an industry that Oregonians have chosen - and one I will do everything within my legal authority to protect", Rosenblum said. This decision will create massive uncertainty, hurt local businesses and tax revenue, and harm public safety by driving cannabis activity back into the more risky black market. Federal law forbids the growing, use, and buying or selling of marijuana.

"I think Brown and OR won't be able to be so casual with this", he said. Cory Gardner of Colorado, which has permissive marijuana laws, threatened to hold up Trump administration appointees unless Sessions reverses course. As of July, the state had brought in $505 million in cannabis-related taxes and fees since sales officially began in 2014. How will the change in policy affect the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry?

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