Article by Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post
In his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Trump’s nominee for attorney general, declined to say whether he’d adhere to the more lenient marijuana enforcement guidelines adopted by the Obama administration’s Justice Department in states that have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana use.
“Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people who are using marijuana in accordance with their state laws, even though it might violate federal laws?” Senator Patrick Leahy (D.-Vermont) asked.
“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy,” Sessions replied. “I think some of [the Obama-era guidelines] are truly valuable in evaluating cases,” he added. “Using good judgment about how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I know it won’t be an easy decision, but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”
Under Obama, the Department of Justice largely adopted a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in states that legalized the drug for medical or recreational use, provided that certain criteria — like keeping the drug out of the hands of children — were met under state laws. That policy was outlined in a Justice Department document that came to be known as the Cole Memo, for former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who drafted the memo.
Drug policy experts have said that this tacit green light from the Obama administration was instrumental in Colorado and Washington’s decisions to fully follow through on recreational marijuana laws passed by voters in 2012. In November 2016, four more states including California voted to make the recreational use of marijuana legal, bringing the total to eight states plus the District. Medicinal marijuana has been legalized in 28 states.