After months of grumbling about the harms of cannabis, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking action by directing federal prosecutors to start cracking down on state-sanctioned cannabis companies that are in violation of federal laws.
Just days after the state of California legalized recreational cannabis on January 1, Sessions will rescind Department of Justice policies that allowed businesses in states with legal adult-use and medicinal cannabis to operate without fear of prosecution.
In a memo dated January 4, Sessions told federal prosecutors that they "should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions" and ignore policies introduced during the Obama era that prevent federal law enforcement from interfering with state-sanctioned cannabis businesses.
"Given the Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," he wrote in the one-page memo.
Since he assumed office, Sessions has repeatedly slammed cannabis legalization, famously declaring that "good people don't smoke marijuana" and comparing it to heroin.
While Sessions has made his stance known, President Donald Trump seems to have flip-flopped on the issue. In 2016, he told reporters that he saw marijuana as a state issue, but in today's White House press briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters: "The president believes in enforcing federal law."
"That is his top priority," she said. "That is regardless of what the topic is, whether it's marijuana or whether it's immigration. The president strongly believes that we should enforce federal law. The move that the Department of Justice has made...simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law."
Following reports of Session's decision, the United States Marijuana Index fell by nearly 22 percent, with shares falling from an opening price of $105 to $82, following a steady rise during the month of December leading up to legalization in California.
American politicians in favour of cannabis legalization have taken to Twitter, calling out Sessions for going after recreational-marijuana users and reviving the so-called war on drugs.
"That's not being smart on crime," tweeted California Senator Kamala Harris.
Instead of going after drug cartels, and violent crime, and major traffickers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going after recreational marijuana users. That’s not being smart on crime.https://t.co/BNlcxbTT4v— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 4, 2018
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker also spoke out against Sessions's "backwards" actions and urged his followers to call their senators and speak out against the decision.
We must stop Jeff Sessions' backwards actions. There is now great urgency to pass the Marijuana Justice Act to legalize marijuana on the federal level.— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) January 4, 2018
Now is the time. Call your Senator. https://t.co/Cr8FZjITWI pic.twitter.com/9OMTz3VMjN
Congressman Keith Ellison went a step further, accusing Sessions of reviving the war on drugs as a tactic to control minorities.
The war on drugs didn’t stop drug usage; it just ruined a lot of lives. Jeff Sessions is reviving it because he believes in using the criminal justice system as an instrument of racial and economic control of poor people and brown people. https://t.co/XRd8OldE2N— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) January 4, 2018