Friday March 17, 2017
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has worried many advocates for legal medical and recreational marijuana because of his comments, before and since becoming attorney general, critical of both marijuana and its legalization for any purpose. However, in questions and answers with reporters Wednesday in Richmond, Virginia, Sessions indicated that the Trump administration will continue following the Obama administration policy of refraining from many prosecutions of individuals for US marijuana law violations if they are complying with state marijuana laws.
In particular, Sessions pointed to the August 29, 2013 “Cole memorandum” adopted by the Obama administration to guide US Department of Justice marijuana enforcement decisions in light of conflicts between states’ legalization and US laws. Sessions said: "The Cole memorandum set up some policies under President Obama's Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid." This declaration leaves Sessions room to increase prosecutions in some circumstances. But, it importantly indicates that the Trump administration’s plan is for the general policy to remain the same.
The Cole memorandum itself provides Sessions and the DOJ with significant avenues for expanding marijuana prohibition enforcement. The memorandum states that “attorneys and law enforcement” are directed to “focus their enforcement resources and efforts, including prosecution, on persons or organizations whose conduct interferes with” any of eight listed priorities, “regardless of state law.” Included among the listed priorities are preventing distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is illegal, and preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other public health problems from marijuana use.