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By: Steve Birr
Fiery rhetoric on marijuana legalization from Attorney General Jeff Sessions is prompting some states to preemptively act to limit federal power over local pot laws.
“They could start issuing a bunch of threat letters, they could begin raiding and arresting people in various states,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “While those things are definitely scary and would ruin any number of people’s lives and careers, that’s not going to stop the momentum in the industry.”
Activists and pioneers in the burgeoning marijuana industry are growing increasingly anxious over language from the White House and the Department of Justice suggesting a federal crackdown on state pot laws is around the corner. Sessions, a staunch opponent of legalization, is currently reviewing the Cole Memorandum, a set of guidelines established in 2013 that direct DOJ to focus marijuana enforcement efforts on violent crimes and distribution in states without legalization laws.
“We’re seeing real violence around that,” Sessions said Feb. 27. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer fielded questions on President Donald Trump’s stance on marijuana legalization during a February press conference. He signaled the Department of Justice is likely going to increase enforcement, at least when it comes to recreational marijuana legalization.
“If they’re politically smart about this they’ll realize this is not a fight they want to pick and will only distract from their broader agenda,” Angell told TheDCNF. “But the whole notion of ‘if they’re smart about politics’ is a big if. It seems like they don’t really care.”
Marijuana advocates likely won’t know the true intentions of the Justice Department regarding legal pot until July, when the task force reviewing the department’s policy will give Sessions recommendations on how to proceed. Until then, lawmakers in legal states are not leaving things to chance. They’re attempting to push through legislation aimed at protecting their businesses and residents from federal raids.
“The word of the day is uncertainty,” Angell said. “There are a number of things the federal government can do to gum up the works, but I do also think that at this point it will be damn near impossible for our opponents to completely reverse our gains. I think you’ll see more state action if threatening remarks continue to come out of the Justice Department.”
Legislation dubbed “the Sessions safeguard,” passed the Colorado state Senate Wednesday. If federal law becomes adversarial toward recreational marijuana laws, the bill allows for a one-time legal reclassification of pot from recreational to medical, in order to prevent federal seizures in Colorado-based marijuana dispensaries.
“If the Justice Department goes after recreational but not medical marijuana, that sort of switch would allow the industry to protect themselves,” Angell said. “That said, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment aside, which restricts the government’s ability to go after state medical marijuana businesses, all marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.”
A bill heading to the governor’s desk in Oregon will bar any marijuana business in the state from retaining personal information about customers for more than 48 hours and prohibits businesses from sharing customer information with anyone else. Proponents of the legislation hope it will protect users’ identities in the event of federal raids and seizures.
Lawmakers in California are pushing legislation that would block local police and state sheriff’s departments from assisting federal agents in investigations of marijuana businesses compliant with the state law.
Marijuana advocates are hopeful broad support for the issue and continued efforts to legalize the substance in states and localities across the country will make a federal crackdown all but impossible. Polling from Quinnipiac shows 59 percent of voters support federal marijuana legalization.
“As these states have begun to implement these legalization laws, jobs have been created and the states, to some extent, are becoming reliant on the tax revenue,” Angell told TheDCNF. “The states are increasingly incentivised to stand up to the federal government and to protect what they have right now.”