Sessions To Reverse Policy That Opened Door For States To Legalize Marijuana
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is turning a blind eye to pot no more. NPR has learned that he intends to reverse the policy that opened the door for states to legalize marijuana, even though federal law still forbids it. In 2013, the Department of Justice under President Obama issued this memo saying it would not stand in the way of states that allowed pot as long as marijuana didn't cross state lines or get into the hands of children or criminals. Jeff Sessions is expected to rescind this memo today. This, of course, comes just days after recreational marijuana became legal in California. The AP's Sadie Gurman was the first to report on this policy change, and she joins me now. Hey, Sadie.
SADIE GURMAN: Hi, there.
MARTIN: Lay out, if you could, what it is specifically that the attorney general is doing here.
GURMAN: So he is basically lifting an Obama-era policy that took a sort of hands-off approach to marijuana enforcements nationwide and allowed the legal marijuana industry to flourish. So basically, in its place, he is letting U.S. attorneys across the country in pot-legal states decide whether they want to expend the limited federal resources to go after pot and that could potentially jeopardize the legal industry.
MARTIN: So Jeff Sessions has been pretty vocal about his opposition to marijuana, though, so is this necessarily a surprise?
GURMAN: This is not a surprise. I think advocates on both sides have been expecting Sessions to take some kind of an action. The pro-pot people were expecting something more dramatic, like federal raids on marijuana dispensaries and things like that. But this is a different approach that could have consequences.
MARTIN: We should remind listeners, though, Jeff Sessions is just enforcing the law - the federal law as written. And if people who support legalizing marijuana want real change, that federal law's got to be changed.
GURMAN: That's exactly right. That's what the Justice Department has always maintained. Even under the Obama administration, the Cole memo, which is the memo in question here, never, you know, said that federal law wasn't enforceable. It just laid out some parameters...
MARTIN: Guidelines for businesses in the world of pot to kind of circumvent the law.
MARTIN: So what's going to happen now? I mean, how is this announcement going to affect states that have already legalized pot?
GURMAN: Well, I think that remains to be seen. And I think a lot of it will come down to where the U.S. attorneys in each of the states stand and who the Trump administration decides to put into those positions - some of which are still open.
MARTIN: Although, in a state like California, it's unlikely that state officials would overturn what their state has already decided, how to treat marijuana.
GURMAN: Right. So I think the end result will just be, you know, additional confusion that already exists about - what is legal, what isn't legal, where can you do it, where can't you?
MARTIN: At the same time, that's going to be a deterrent, I imagine, for people who are thinking about getting into the legal pot business - just raises more questions and risks.
GURMAN: Yeah. I think that's true. A lot of the anti-pot advocates say that, you know, this will sort of discourage investment in the industry that has become a million-dollar business.
MARTIN: All right, Sadie Gurman with The Associated Press. She was the first to report on this policy change this morning. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going to overturn - rescind an Obama-era memo that paved the way for legalizing marijuana. Sadie, thanks so much for your time this morning.
GURMAN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDED BABIES' "CHINGY MUNGY")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.