Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the US, released a statement today that overturns a policy protecting the rights of states to sell legal cannabis without prosecution by the federal government. For those of you following recent legislative changes in US cannabis policy, this backlash should come as no surprise – although that doesn’t make it sting any less for those who rely on medical cannabis.
On January 1, California, one of many states that has either legalized recreational cannabis or has begun implementing medical cannabis programs, ushered in a new era of fully legalized cannabis sales. These policy changes in the new year represent a growing acceptance of cannabis as a healing plant and one that can be used recreationally with fewer side effects than many other legalized substances. In fact, a recent Gallup poll showed that 64% of Americans believes that cannabis should be fully legalized.
But the notoriously conservative Jeff Session has never been on board with this – and has promised on more than one occasion that he was ready to counter state-by-state legalization with greater restrictions at the federal level.
Let’s take a look now at what we know about this current policy and what this new policy change might mean for medical cannabis users.
What's the Current Policy?
The newly rescinded policy is known as the Cole Memo. It was put into place during the Obama administration in 2013 by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. The policy limited federal jurisdiction over cannabis sales in states in which its use was legalized. It also outlined the specific activities the federal government would remain actively engaged in regulating – including preventing sales to minors, guiding how revenue from sales were spent, monitoring state-to-state interactions and public health, and preventing cannabis-associated violence.
These criteria helped keep state cannabis issues and federal cannabis issues segregated and allowed states a majority of control in managing their cannabis industries.
What Might Happen Next?
Sessions wrote in a letter sent to federal prosecutors across the US, “"Given the Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.”
By rescinding this policy, Sessions (and the current administration) is sending a message to California and other states – the federal government is watching you and will step in when they see fit.
It’s not certain how this new change will affect medical cannabis users, if at all, as it’s much too soon to speculate on this recently released news.
What Can You Do?
With new policy changes often come surprise, anger, and mobilization. But medical cannabis users my also be facing fear -- a fear that their medications will no longer be available or that taking their medication could be considered criminal activity.
Again, it's far too soon to panic. But it's never too soon to mobilize. Both the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws have resources to help you connect with your local and federal lawmakers.
Stay tuned as this story continues to unfold.