January 4, 2018 – Reaction has been swift from public officials in California following the announcement that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has issued a memo to federal prosecutors which “directs all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities.”
The memo rescinds all previous DOJ memos that allowed both medical and recreational marijuana businesses to operate in legalized states, and came three days after California opened state-licensed shops selling recreational marijuana to adults 21 and over.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom put out a statement to media immediately, saying,
“Today, Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration destructively doubled down on the failed, costly and racially discriminatory policy of marijuana criminalization, trampling on the will of California voters and a year-long bipartisan implementation process led by Governor Brown and the California Legislature.
“This position defies facts and logic, threatens the promise of a safe, stable, and legal regulatory framework being pursued by twenty-nine different states, and continues the Trump Administration’s cynical war on America’s largest state – and its people and progress – through immigration crackdowns, tax increases, climate policy reversals, health care repeals and now marijuana policing.
“It also flies in the face of the overwhelming public opinion of a vast majority of Americans, who support marijuana legalization.
“As it has on other issues, California will stand together to pursue all legal, legislature and political options to protect its reforms and its rights as a state. I call on our federal leaders to move quickly to protect states’ rights from the harmful effects of this ideological temper tantrum by Jeff Sessions.”
Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, “In California, we decided it was best to regulate, not criminalize, cannabis. Unlike others, we embrace, not fear, change. After all, this is 2018 not the 20th century. At the California Department of Justice we intend to vigorously enforce our state’s laws and protect our state’s interests.”
Becerra has reached out to the four U.S. attorneys in California to ” find out what they can tell us about what they plan to do to implement the new policy issued by Attorney General Sessions.” He has not ruled out a lawsuit, he said Friday. “We’re ready to protect the state’s laws when it comes to marijuana,” Becerra said. “We’ll do whatever we must to make sure that California’s laws are obeyed.”
He also said he’s working with other state attorneys general, the governor’s office and the Legislature to identify the best course of action. “Whether it’s growing or selling or using, my best advice is to know the law in the state of California and know what you are required to do and not do,” Becerra said. Also see: Becerra vows to fight pot crackdown
Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax stated, “The administration is conferring with the California Attorney General and other states in response to this action. We expect the federal government to respect the rights of states and the votes of millions of people across America and if they won’t, Congress should act. Regardless, we’ll continue to move forward with the state’s regulatory processes covering both medicinal and adult-use cannabis consistent with the will of California’s voters, while defending our state’s laws to the fullest extent.”
California Treasurer John Chiang, who convened a panel on banking and the cannabis industry, wrote, “Akin to the ill-conceived positions the Trump Administration has adopted on so many important public policy topics during the past year, Attorney General Session’s decision today is out of step with the will of the people of not only California, but the 29 states that have legalized either or both medicinal and recreational-use cannabis.”
“For years, red, blue and purple states have worked steadfastly to bring the cannabis industry out of the shadows so that it can be properly regulated to prevent sales to minors, to protect the public’s health and safety, and ensure cannabis businesses behave as legitimate, tax-paying members of our economy. The action taken by Attorney General Sessions threatens us with new national divisiveness and casts into turmoil a newly established industry that is creating jobs and tax revenues.
“Until the slow, clunking machinery of the federal government catches up with the values and will of the people it purportedly serves, states —like California — will continue to both resist and, more importantly, to lead.”
Kevin de León, the State Senate leader, said he was working with Eric Holder an attorney general under President Barack Obama, to push back against attempts to enforce federal marijuana law, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he would allow federal prosecutors to do.
“Whether Jeff Sessions likes cannabis is not the question,” Mr. de León said. “The people of California voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana for recreational use.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) also put out a statement, calling on Congress to “take action to ensure that state law is respected, and that Americans who legally use marijuana are not subject to federal prosecution. Democrats will continue to insist on bipartisan provisions in appropriations bills that protect Americans lawfully using medical marijuana. Congress should now consider expanding the provisions to cover those states that have decriminalized marijuana generally.”
Rep. Pelosi was referring to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to prosecute state-legal marijuana businesses. That amendment is contained in the federal budget bill, which is up for renewal on January 19.
Just yesterday, three members of Washington State’s “Kettle Falls Five” – medical marijuana activists Rhonda Lee Firestack-Harvey, Michelle Lynn Gregg and Roland Mark Gregg – had convictions vacated and charges dismissed by U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice. Federal prosecutors had asked for the dismissal because of “a cloud of Congress’ suspension of funding authority” to continue with an appeal.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) appeared on the Fox Business channel to discuss his concerns with Sessions’s memo. In a statement, he said,
“This is a profound misreading of the Constitution, which allows states, not the heavy-handed federal government, to determine such issues. How ironic that the attorney general has long championed states’ rights when it suits other parts of his agenda! More than that, by attacking the clear will of the American people, the attorney general contradicts President Trump’s campaign pledges to leave medical and recreational marijuana questions for the states to decide. By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy.”
Harkening to asset forfeiture, Rohrabacher wrote Sessions is “doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.” Indeed, Sessions’s memo takes prosecutors back to 1980 and a directive issued by then-AG Benjamin Civiletti, refined and reflected in Chapter 97-27.000 of the US Attys manual. That chapter outlines triggers for mandatory minimum sentences based on “drug type and quantity,” as well as a defendants’ criminal history, use of violence, and “Whether the defendant was an organizer, leader, manager or supervisor of others within a criminal organization.”
California has four US attorneys for districts across the state. The Northern District is without a chief attorney at the moment; McGregor Scott, who has not been friendly to marijuana operations in the past, has been recently re-appointed to the Eastern District. U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman of the Southern District of CA, said his office is committed to enforcing the laws enacted by Congress, which treats marijuana as an illegal controlled substance. The Central District (encompassing Los Angeles) just swore in Nicola T. Hanna as chief prosecutor.
US attorneys in other states have announced their prosecutorial practices will not change in the wake of the memo.
Also tweeting in favor of states’ rights were Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Silicon Valley), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Malibu), Rep. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), Barbara Lee, and Senator Kamala Harris, California’s former Attorney General, who said, “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.”
Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said he will revive his bill to make California a sanctuary state for marijuana.
Newspapers in the state also responded. The San Diego Union Tribune editorial board wrote,
“Jeff Sessions targeting marijuana, not opioids? That’s crazy.” The Orange County Register said, “Marijuana legalization shouldn’t be left up to Jeff Sessions.” The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Jeff Sessions is starting a futile war on cannabis.” And the LA Times says, “Only Congress can keep Jeff Sessions’ reefer madness in check”
“Democrats urge Attorney General Sessions to begin the New Year with a commitment to prosecute the real crimes devastating our nation, not to waste precious time and resources waging a pointless, unjust war against innocent Americans,” Pelosi said.
Just say NO to Jeff Sessions! Urge your representatives to support The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017