January 4, 2018

Sessions’ marijuana decision likely won’t impact medical marijuana

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Gage Skidmore

Senator Jeff Sessions speaking at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. Flickr /cc

The U.S. Department of Justice does not appear to be concerned with medical cannabis producers or patients, including those in New Mexico, despite a memo Thursday from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session that signaled a federal crackdown on legal marijuana.

Sessions’ memo officially rescinded guidance from the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama regarding cannabis. Instead, Sessions wrote, each U.S. Attorney has the discretion to determine which types of cannabis-related cases should be federally prosecuted. Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico James Tierney did not respond to a request for comment.

New Mexico law only allows for medical cannabis use, which was not specifically addressed in Session’s memo. But, a DOJ official told NM Political Report the department would not violate federal law including a current provision that prohibits federal money from being used to hinder medical cannabis use or production.

President Donald Trump has previously intimated that he is in favor of medical cannabis, but he also said he would leave legalization decisions to individual states.

Sessions’ announcement effectively repealed guidance from former Deputy Attorney General James Cole, often referred to as the Cole Memo. Cole focused on safety and compliance by state governments and cannabis producers instead of arrests for use, production or possession. Cole’s memo, while not official law, allowed states to legalize recreational cannabis.

An amendment, known as the Rohrabacher amendment, to a congressional spending bill protects states like New Mexico that allow medical cannabis sales.

The tacked-on language says federal money cannot be spent to go after states that allow medical cannabis production. The Rohrabacher amendment has been extended until January 19 as part of the current funding for the federal government.

Nearly 30 states allow medical cannabis use. Washington D.C. and 8 states allow recreational use.