A directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to place discretion of federal marijuana enforcement in the hands of federal prosecutors has caused concern for advocates of medicinal and recreational use of marijuana in Michigan, but the implications of his decision remain unclear.
In a memo sent to all U.S. Attorneys Thursday, Sessions rescinded Obama-era policies that generally kept officials from enforcing federal marijuana law in states where its use had been legalized. The memo instructs attorneys to use their discretion in considering how and where to enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana.
Seven states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and 29 states — including Michigan — have legalized its medicinal use. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is also working to get a petition to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan on the November 2018 ballot, and coalition officials say the group has turned in enough signatures to qualify.
“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” the memo reads.
It’s unclear exactly what could come of Sessions’ shift in marijuana policy on a state-by-state-basis, but it largely depends on how the state’s U.S. attorneys respond. Michigan’s acting U.S. Attorneys are Andrew Birge in the Western District and Matthew Schneider in the Eastern District. Schneider was appointed to the interim position by Sessions Wednesday, Jan. 3.
Also a factor in ongoing discussions on potential marijuana prosecution is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which prevents the Justice Department from using federal funding to intervene with state medical marijuana programs. That amendment was included in legislation that extends the existing federal government funding bill until Jan. 19.
Advocates for marijuana legalization were quick to criticize