United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week made it easier for federal marijuana laws to be enforced in states that had legalized its use, a move that may backfire, says a legal expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Legalization of medical marijuana is favored by most voters even in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, which now permit medical marijuana,” said Peter Joy, the Henry Hitchcock Professor of Law and director of the School of Law’s Criminal Justice Clinic.
“If the Department of Justice starts going after marijuana sales that are legal in these swing states, I would expect a strong backlash,” said Joy, who has written about legal ethics as it relates to marijuana law.
There is no indication that U.S. attorneys are going to instruct federal authorities to enforce simple possession or sales of marijuana legal within the 29 states and District of Columbia that permit medical marijuana or have decriminalized recreational use by adults, he said.
In fact, the new policy may not change much of anything in practice.
The only difference between the new policy and the policy it replaces, Joy said, is that individual U.S. attorneys are being told to use their discretion in enforcing all federal marijuana laws.
Previously, they were asked to follow prior federal instructions to focus enforcement on: sales to minors; revenue to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; transporting marijuana to states where marijuana is illegal; use of marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity; use of violence or firearms; drugged driving and other adverse public health consequences; growing marijuana on public lands; and possession or use on federal property.