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Sessions’ Task Force Urges No Change on Marijuana Policy

  • Associated Press

FILE - A variety of medicinal marijuanas in jars at Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group dispensary in West Hollywood, Calif., Oct. 18, 2016.

The betting was that law-and-order Attorney General Jeff Sessions would come out against the legalized marijuana industry with guns blazing. But the task force Sessions assembled to find the best legal strategy is giving him no ammunition, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group of prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials, has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views. The group’s report largely reiterates the current Justice Department policy on marijuana.

It encourages officials to keep studying whether to change or rescind the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach to enforcement — a stance that has allowed the nation’s experiment with legal pot to flourish. The report was not slated to be released publicly, but portions were obtained by the AP.

FILE - Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, March 2, 2017.
FILE - Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, March 2, 2017.

Difficult to change course

Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and blamed it for spikes in violence, has been promising to reconsider existing pot policy since he took office six months ago. His statements have sparked both support and worry across the political spectrum as a growing number of states have worked to legalize the drug.

Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals, who object to the human costs of a war on pot, and some conservatives, who see it as a states’ rights issue. Some advocates and members of Congress had feared the task force’s recommendations would give Sessions the green light to begin dismantling what has become a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar pot industry that helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement.

But the tepid nature of the recommendations signals just how difficult it would be to change course.

Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress are seeking ways to protect and promote pot businesses.

Task force not the last word

The task force suggestions are not final, and Sessions is in no way bound by them. The government still has plenty of ways it can punish weed-tolerant states, including raiding pot businesses and suing states where the drug is legal, a rare but quick path to compliance. The only one who could override a drastic move by Sessions is President Donald Trump, whose personal views on marijuana remain mostly unknown.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

FILE - People wait in line to be among the first to legally buy recreational marijuana at the Botana Care store in Northglenn, Colorado, Jan. 1, 2014.
FILE - People wait in line to be among the first to legally buy recreational marijuana at the Botana Care store in Northglenn, Colorado, Jan. 1, 2014.

The recommendations are not surprising because “there’s as much evidence that Sessions intends to maintain the system and help improve upon it as there is that he intends to roll it back,” said Mason Tvert, who ran Colorado’s legalization campaign. He pointed to Sessions’ comment during his Senate confirmation hearing that while he opposed legalization, he understood the scarcity of federal resources and echoed the position of his Democratic predecessors.

But in July, he sent letters to Colorado and Washington that stirred concern, asking how they would address reports they were not adequately regulating the drug.

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