Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2018
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2018 Star Advertiser


WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors won't take on small-time marijuana
cases, despite the Justice Department's decision to lift an Obama-era
policy that discouraged U.S. authorities from cracking down on the pot
trade in states where the drug is legal, Attorney General Jeff
Sessions said today.

Federal law enforcement lacks the resources to take on "routine cases"
and will continue to focus on drug gangs and larger conspiracies,
Sessions said. The comments come after the Trump administration in
January threw the burgeoning marijuana legalization movement into
uncertainty by reversing the largely hands-off approach that prevailed
during the Obama administration, saying federal prosecutors should
instead handle marijuana cases however they see fit.

The Obama-era policy allowed the pot trade to flourish, with eight
states legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

The reversal added to confusion about whether it's OK to grow, buy or
use marijuana in states where pot is legal, since long-standing
federal law prohibits it. And it caused concern that prosecutors would
feel empowered to jail individuals for marijuana possession.

"I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that
possession of marijuana is legal under United States law," Sessions
said, answering student questions after a speech at Georgetown's law
school. But, he added, federal prosecutors "haven't been working small
marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now."

Of particular interest are problems that federal authorities have
tried for years to tackle, like illegal marijuana-growing operations
on national parklands and gangs that peddle pot along with more
harmful drugs. Some law enforcement officials in pot-legal states
argue the legal trade has caused unintended problems like black-market
marijuana growing and dealing by people who don't even try to conform
to the legal framework.

It remains to be seen whether prosecutors will seek to punish
state-sanctioned pot businesses. Some have indicated they have no
plans to do so.

"Those are the kinds of things each one of those U.S. attorneys will
decide how to handle," Sessions said.
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