Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jul 2018 Source: Hartford Courant (CT) Copyright: 2018 The Hartford Courant Contact: http://drugsense.org/url/IpIfHam4 Website: http://www.courant.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/183 Author: Matthew Ormseth U.S. ATTORNEY IN MASSACHUSETTS SAYS OPIOIDS, NOT CANNABIS, A PRIORITY AS STATE READIES MARIJUANA RETAIL MARKET American Grow Lab employees gather clippings from "mother" plants to be grown into use for medical marijuana. American Grow Lab employees gather clippings from "mother" plants to be grown into use for medical marijuana. (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant) The top federal law enforcement official in Massachusetts signaled Tuesday he would not aggressively prosecute people for using and selling marijuana -- a federal, if not state crime -- saying that while he could not "effectively immunize" residents from federal laws criminalizing the drug, his office was turning its attention to the state's opioid problem. Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis in 2016. From the start, the drug's nonmedical use existed in a kind of legal twilight -- sanctioned by the state, technically still a federal crime. July 1, a fated day in Massachusetts for advocates of recreational marijuana, came and went. The first day that stores were allowed to sell nonmedical cannabis passed without so much as a joint sold. No retailers had been licensed, and July 1 turned out much like any other day since December 15,... Former President Barack Obama had discouraged Justice Department officials from enforcing federal laws criminalizing marijuana in states that had legalized the drug. But current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a strong opponent of legal marijuana, announced he was rescinding the Obama-era guidelines in January, throwing into jeopardy cannabis markets in states like Colorado that had years ago legalized it. Though Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, the state has yet to set up a retail market. July 1 was the first day licensed dispensaries were allowed to begin selling cannabis, but the state had yet to award a license when the day came. The state's Cannabis Control Commission has since granted one dispensary a provisional retail license, and another company received licenses to grow and transport nonmedical cannabis. Retail sales could begin in weeks. Andrew E. Lelling, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts and an appointee of President Donald Trump, stressed Tuesday that he has "a constitutional obligation" to uphold federal laws. But given the state's opioid epidemic, which "claims thousands of lives in the Commonwealth each year," Lelling said his office would "most likely" prosecute Massachusetts residents for just three types of marijuana-related crimes: selling to minors, overproduction and organized crime's involvement in the cannabis retail market. "This list is not exclusive," Lelling said in a news release, "but only intended to clarify which aspects of the state-level marijuana industry are most likely to warrant federal involvement." His office will continue to weigh prosecuting all marijuana-related crimes on a "case-by-case basis," he added. Lelling said he was concerned about licensed cultivators growing extra marijuana and selling it in states where the drug remains illegal. The sales usually involve some kind of tax fraud to disguise the source of the cash, he said. Retailers targeting minors as cannabis consumers was another of Lelling's concerns. "Study after study confirms that regular marijuana use is dangerous to adolescent brain development," he said. Those who target minors for marijuana sales could be prosecuted for federal crimes. Lelling also warned of interstate, even international, crime groups becoming involved in Massachusetts' cannabis market, financing their illegal operations with drug proceeds. He said his office would watch for bulk quantities of cash flowing in or out of the state, and monitor the federal banking system. Despite being legal in Massachusetts, it remains a crime to bring marijuana purchased there into Connecticut. "No matter what you choose to do in another state," Kelly Grant, a spokeswoman for Connecticut state police said earlier this month, "when you get back to Connecticut, Connecticut law applies in Connecticut."