On January 4, 2018, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the government’s long-standing policy regarding the enforcement of federal drug laws in states that have passed laws to protect marijuana businesses and users. In 2013, the Obama Administration adopted a policy known as the Cole Memorandum, which directed federal prosecutors to use discretion in prioritizing and prosecuting violations related to marijuana in states that had passed laws to protect its sale and use for medical and recreational purposes. This policy indicated that the federal government would respect state marijuana laws if certain conditions were satisfied - such as keeping marijuana away from criminal gangs and out of the hands of children. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed this policy and stated that each United States Attorney in each individual state should decide whether they will prosecute businesses and individuals who buy, sell, or use marijuana pursuant to state law. The result is that the government’s view on state marijuana laws could vary from state-to-state. It also means that businesses and users who comply with state marijuana laws are no longer shielded from prosecution by the federal government because marijuana remains illegal under federal law and is classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Despite the new direction from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, some limited protections do still exist, including under the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, which limits the government’s use of certain funds to prosecute individuals who are complying with state marijuana laws.
If you have questions about compliance with state and federal marijuana laws, call Jeff Matura, Melissa England, or Tabitha Myers at 602-792-5705.
Learn more about the Barrett | Matura Cannabis Law Practice Group.