Even though U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to have been clearing the way for federal prosecutors to take on marijuana crimes, he recently announced that they will not be doing so. Federal law enforcement simply doesn’t have the resources to tackle “routine cases” involving marijuana.
This is positive news for states like New Jersey, where marijuana is approved for a number of medical conditions, along with jurisdictions that have fully legalized the drug. Sessions has been backing away from the hands-off approach adopted by the Obama administration, and many advocates had feared that the federal government was getting ready to crack down on marijuana use in medical and legalization states.
“I am not going to tell Colorado or California or someone else that possession of marijuana is legal under United States law,” he said at Georgetown Law recently, adding that U.S. attorneys “haven’t been working small marijuana cases before, they are not going to be working them now.”
Federal authorities do have bigger fish to fry, even in marijuana crimes. Rather than arresting low-level, nonviolent weed users and dealers, they may want to focus their resources on more serious crimes.
For example, federal prosecutors have for years been trying to address illegal marijuana grow operations in national parks. Or, the states where pot is legal for recreational purposes have been trying to cut away at black-market operations that don’t try to comply with regulations. Legalization states would also like to keep weed out of the hands of children and away from violent cartels.
Will the federal government start going after purveyors of medical marijuana, or shutting down state-legal distributors? Sessions left the decision up to each of the U.S. Attorneys.
In January, interim U.S. attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito issued a rather vague statement about whether his office would actively prosecute federal marijuana offenses in the state. “The cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana continues to be generally prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act. We will use our prosecutorial discretion in evaluating all cases and making determinations as we do with all controlled substance cases.”