Federal directive complicates legal marijuana in Massachusetts
A recent missive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions put activists and those who work in the nascent marijuana industry in Massachusetts on alert last week.
Sessions rescinded Obama-era federal guidelines that essentially removed marijuana from the list of federal drug enforcement priorities as more states legalized it.
The rollback puts power to local U.S. attorneys to use discretion in enforcing federal law. It was met with varied reaction from those in the field, many who said it puts an uncertainty onto an industry still trying to identify itself in the state.
U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling issued a statement the same day Sessions announced the rollback, indicating his office would pursue federal marijuana crimes.
“Our office will aggressively investigate and prosecute bulk cultivation and trafficking cases, and those who use the federal banking system illegally,” Lelling wrote in his initial statement.
When responding to activists seeking further clarity, he said last week that state law does not protect people who cultivate and distribute marijuana.
Lelling, an appointee of President Donald Trump who took office on Dec. 21, took a harder stance than some federal prosecutors in other parts of the country who said state-licensed marijuana growers and retailers wouldn’t be the focus of enforcement efforts.
“Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do,” he wrote in a Jan. 8 memo. “The kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process.”
He said he would “proceed on a case-by-case basis,” and assess how best to use “limited federal resources.”
In response to Lelling’s statement, on Tuesday Gov. Charlie Baker gave reporters outside Boston City Hall perhaps one of his