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Justice Department Task Force Punts on Marijuana As AG Sessions Pressures Legal-Pot States

The much-anticipated report from the Justice Department's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety fails to contradict Obama-era marijuana policies, and calls for more study and research into state-sanctioned legal cannabis programs. 

Though the report has yet to be released, portions of it were obtained by the Associated Press. The Justice Department, it states, should continue to "evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind" various memos that prevent the federal government from interfering with statewide adult-use and medical-marijuana programs in Colorado and other states.

This is a rebuke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' efforts to recharge the Drug War with a major focus on marijuana enforcement in legal states. 

“The vast majority of Americans want the federal government to let states determine their own marijuana policies," says MPP director of conservative outreach Dan Murphy. "We hope the attorney general is paying attention and maintains the current policy of non-interference.”

Sessions is also receiving flak from Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson after he sent a letter to the governor on July 24 that criticized the state's legal cannabis program. 

"I'm incredibly proud of the work we've done to implement legalization in a way that keeps youth safe, minimizes diversion into the black market and minimizes diversion out of state," the governor stated in response. "It's important for our state to know the Trump Administration is willing to work with us to ensure our success on these efforts, rather than undermining our efforts and diminishing our ability to work constructively with growers and distributors.

"While Washington has been successful in creating a tightly regulated market place and generating needed revenue for the state, challenges do remain. Most importantly marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government. This determination affects all aspects of our state systems, from banking to research to consumer safety. 

"It's clear that our goals regarding health and safety are in step with the goals Attorney General Sessions has articulated. Unfortunately, he's referring to incomplete and unreliable data that does not provide the most accurate snapshot of our efforts since the marketplace opened in 2014. Our team is currently reviewing his letter, and we will have a more detailed response in the coming days. I look forward to speaking with Attorney General Sessions to make sure he fully understands everything our state is doing to accomplish our shared goals.”

AG Jeff Sessions sent letters to the Colorado and Washington governors criticizing legal marijuana programs in their states.

Ferguson added in a statement: "I was disappointed by Attorney General Sessions’ letter, which relies on incomplete, inaccurate and out-of-date information on the status of Washington’s marijuana regulations. I'm also disappointed that he has yet to accept my repeated invitations to meet in person to discuss this critical issue face to face. If he does accept, I look forward to providing him with a more complete picture of the robust regulatory program that exists in our state.

“Any action from the Department of Justice short of allowing our well-regulated, voter-approved system to continue is unacceptable. I will continue to defend the will of Washington voters.” 

He also told the Seattle Times about Sessions, "It's hard to take him seriously if he relies on outdated information. Do your homework, get good information," and added that Washington has "worked hard to comply" with the memos, particularly the one written by James Cole in 2013.

In a similar letter sent to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also on July 24, Sessions stated that traffic deaths and emergency room visits due to legal marijuana, as well as underage use, have increased since adult-use sales began in 2014. This information is based on an ONDCP report issued last September.

"Please advise as to how Colorado plans… to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors,” Sessions wrote.

The AG's letter, which was a reply to one sent by Hickenlooper, Inslee, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker on Apr. 3 regarding a potential federal crackdown, reminded the governor:

"Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug, and that illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a crime. The Department remains committed to enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in a manner that effectively applies our resources to the most significant threats to public health. I look forward to working with you on these issues."

In response to Sessions' letter, Colorado's AG Cynthia Coffman told The Cannabist: "I've always said that legalized marijuana presents significant challenges and public officials need to remain vigilant. That’s the message I gave to officials from the White House and Justice Department when they visited our state last month, and that’s why my office has been responsible for some of the most significant marijuana busts in recent history. We cannot allow bad actors to use our laws as a shield.

“In recent years, Washington, DC has offered little leadership on this issue. Attorney General Sessions’ letter suggests new interest in a strong federal-state law enforcement partnership aimed at protecting public safety in this area, something I look forward to exploring.”

Gov. Hickenlooper, who was slow to embrace legal marijuana in his state, has yet to reply to Sessions' letter.

With one step forward and several steps back, these latest developments leave the country's marijuana policy in doubt. 

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.