The Trump Administration is batting for stricter enforcement for federal laws against recreational marijuana. This could potentially create a turf war between states that have legalized recreational use and the Federal government over which entity has ultimate control. Just days after California began the sale of recreational marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would rescind Obama-era rules of federal non-interference in state laws pertaining to marijuana, reported CNN.
Jeff Sessions is known for his hard-line objections to marijuana ("good people don't smoke marijuana"), but there have been mixed messages from the federal administration in the past year.
"I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it," said Sean Spicer, the then White House press secretary, on Feb. 23, 2017. "Because again, there’s a big difference between the medical use which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was in terms of how the Department of Justice would handle that issue. That’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into."
President Trump himself has flip-flopped on the issue, calling recreational marijuana 'bad', while supporting medical marijuana at the Conservative Political Action Conference in June 2015. A few months later, he softened his stance and relegated the issue to the states.
"In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state," he said in October 2015, according to the Washington Post.
Under the Obama administration, Attorney General James Cole gave guidance on the government's priorities on marijuana enforcement in 2013 in what is now known as the Cole Memo. The memo conceded that no state law could come in way of federal enforcement but also suggested that states could play a greater role in enforcement themselves.
"In jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above," the memo said. It is this policy that Sessions is looking to roll back.
On April 13, President Trump struck a deal with Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, over federal protections for states that have legalized recreational marijuana. After Sessions indicated that he would revoke the Cole memo, Senator Gardner said he would block all DOJ nominations in order to protect that cannabis industry in his home state. In a statement on April 13, Senator Gardner said that President Trump had assured him that Session's rescission of the memo would not impact Colorado's legal marijuana industry, and that President Trump said "that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all."
On April 20, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he would introduce a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
Currently 9 states and Washington D.C. have legalized weed for both recreational and medicinal purposes, while 20 more states permit medical marijuana only. In January, Vermont became the 9th state to legalize recreational cannabis by approving legislation that is set to take effect in that state on July 1. This map shows a state-by-state breakdown of marijuana laws across the country.