US Attorney General Ends Obama Marijuana Policy

04 January, 2018

American Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cancelled a federal policy that let American states legalize marijuana.

The move came just days after California, the country's largest state, began permitting recreational use of the drug.

President Donald Trump's top law enforcement official announced the change Thursday. Instead of the earlier hands-off policy, Sessions will let federal lawyers in states where marijuana is already legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal law.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference in Baltimore, Dec. 12, 2017.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference in Baltimore, Dec. 12, 2017.

In a memo, Sessions asked federal lawyers to consider the seriousness of the crime and its impact "in deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws."

The move by Sessions is likely to create questions in states where it is legal to buy, use and grow marijuana.

Although some state laws have legalized the use of the drug for medical and recreational reasons, marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

In 2013, the Obama administration announced in a memo that it would not resist states' efforts to legalize marijuana. The memo urged the states to keep marijuana from getting to places where it remained illegal. And it asked the states to keep the drug from criminal gangs and children.

Opposition to Sessions' policy change

Republican lawmaker Cory Gardner of Colorado quickly voiced opposition to Sessions' plan. Colorado is among eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Gardner said in a Twitter message that the Justice Department "has trampled on the will of the voters" in Colorado and other states. He also said the action goes against what Sessions had said he would do before becoming attorney general.

Along with Colorado, recreational use of marijuana is legal in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Maine and Masachussetts and in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Another 21 U.S. states permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

The legal sale of marijuana has become a multi-million-dollar business. It helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement. In California, the business is estimated to bring in $1 billion a year in tax money within the next several years.

Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno is with the Drug Policy Alliance. She called Sessions' policy a return to outdated drug-war policies that mainly affected minorities. She added that Sessions "wants to maintain a system that has led to tremendous injustice ... and that has wasted federal resources on a huge scale."

A public opinion study carried out by Gallup in October 2017 shows that 64 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

Support for Sessions policy

The attorney general and some law enforcement officials have blamed legalization for increased drug trafficking. They said drug traffickers have taken advantage of state laws to grow marijuana. Then, they sell it across state lines for more money.

Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana called Sessions' decision a "victory."

Sessions has blamed the illegal use of marijuana and heroin for rising violence in America.

But activists argue that legalizing the drug would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.

I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

recreational - adj. (of a drug) used for pleasure instead of for medical purposes

hands-off - adj. allowing people to do what they want to do without bothering or stopping them

memo - n. a usually brief written message from one person or department in an organization, company, etc., to another

prosecute - v. to hold a trial against a person who is accused of a crime to see if that person is guilty

trample - v. to treat other people's rights, wishes, or feelings as if they are worthless or not important

outdated - adj. no longer useful or acceptable : not modern or current

tremendous - adj. very large or great

take advantage of - to use (something, such as an opportunity) in a way that helps you : to make good use of (something)