New Justice Department policy encourages marijuana prosecutions

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. Seven of these states, of which Pennsylvania is not one, have gone further and legalized the recreational use of marijuana as well as its medical use. The marijuana industry is big business. Over 4,500 dispensaries across the country sell it, bringing in an estimated $6 billion per year. At least 27 of these dispensaries are in Pennsylvania.

Based on a memorandum that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent to federal prosecutors on January 4, however, marijuana growers, sellers and users now face the possibility of being brought up on federal drug charges for engaging in what their states consider to be legal activities. The memo rescinded the Justice Department policy established during the Obama administration that took a hands-off approach to marijuana prosecutions, particularly in states where it is legal. It is still an illegal drug under federal law, and Mr. Sessions, a noted opponent of its legalization, has now given federal prosecutors far more leeway than they have had in the past to prosecute marijuana cases.

The new policy has received considerable condemnation by Democrats and Republicans alike. Others, however, such as Patrick J. Kennedy, former Rhode Island democratic congressman and founder and current adviser to Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-marijuana legalization nonprofit, hailed the new policy as “a boon to public health.” Saying that he believes marijuana users should get treatment rather than jail time, Mr. Kennedy nevertheless expressed his view that marijuana should not be allowed to become America’s new tobacco or liquor industry.

In the meantime, drug attorneys across the nation have been deluged with phone calls from marijuana growers, distributors and users highly concerned about the possible ramifications of the new policy. Those in Pennsylvania might do well to consult with their own attorneys as to what is legal and what is not in this new era of marijuana uncertainty.

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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