US Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided Thursday to rescind Obama-era policy that allowed states to operate recreational marijuana markets. He is replacing it with a new policy allowing federal prosecutors to decide how they will enforce national drug laws.
Western District U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes — based in Seattle — has since released a statement:
Today the Attorney General reiterated his confidence in the basic principles that guide the discretion of all U.S. Attorneys around the country, and directed that those principles shepherd enforcement of federal law regarding marijuana. He also emphasized his belief that U.S. Attorneys are in the best position to address public safety in their districts, and address the crime control problems that are pressing in their communities. Those principles have always been at the core of what the United States Attorney’s Office for Western Washington has done – across all threats to public safety, including those relating to marijuana. As a result, we have investigated and prosecuted over many years cases involving organized crime, violent and gun threats, and financial crimes related to marijuana. We will continue to do so to ensure – consistent with the most recent guidance from the Department – that our enforcement efforts with our federal, state, local and tribal partners focus on those who pose the greatest safety risk to the people and communities we serve.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he is “disappointed and troubled” Sessions’ decision.
“I am disappointed … that AG Sessions plans to abandon the current federal policy on marijuana — a policy that respects states’ rights and focuses federal enforcement on key, shared areas of concern,” Ferguson said in a statement. “Over the past year, Sessions has demonstrated a stunning lack of knowledge about our state’s marijuana laws.
“If reports are accurate, Sessions is changing policy after refusing multiple requests for a meeting from Governor Jay Inslee and myself. I pledge to vigorously defend the will of the voters in Washington state.”
In a letter to Sessions dated Aug. 15, 2017, Inslee and Ferguson point out that Sessions ignored two requests for an in-person meeting. They write that a letter from Sessions that cites a report on marijuana in Washington “makes a number of allegations that are outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information.”
You can read the letter in its entirety here.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan responded to Sessions as well.
“While I was U.S. Attorney, I helped craft DOJ policy on legal marijuana. That policy properly deprioritized legal marijuana, ensured states had the guidance on how to implement medical marijuana to help patients and end the black market, and focused our efforts on protecting kids and targeting organized crime. Reversing course now is a misguided legal overreach and an attack on Seattle, the state of Washington and a majority of states where the voters have made their voices heard loud and clear.
“Seattle won’t be bullied by the Trump Administration which is obsessed with undoing progress that we’ve made on key issues, including legalization.”
Durkan says the federal government should spend its time partnering with King County to help fight the opioid epidemic. She says the Seattle Police Department will “not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults.”
The reported move by Sessions will, as The Associated Press points out, will “add to the confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where pot is legal.”
The change isn’t completely unexpected. Sessions has compared marijuana to drugs such as heroin, blaming it on spikes in violence.
Since the Obama administration announced in 2013 it would not stand in the way of states legalizing marijuana, the pot industry has flourished, becoming a multimillion-dollar industry.