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What Does Rescinding Obama-Era Federal Rules Mean For Recreational Marijuana?

January 4, 2018, 10:34 PM UTC

Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department would be reversing several Obama-era rules pertaining to states that legalized marijuana.

While several states such as Colorado, Oregon, and this week California have made cannabis legal to possess and use, it still remains illegal under federal law. Rules enacted by the Obama administration made it so the federal government agreed to not interfere with states that had voted to legalize the drug as long as that legalization didn’t interfere with other federal laws. Think things like drug trafficking.

So, what does Sessions decision mean for legalized marijuana?

Right now, that’s sort of unclear. Sessions has said that he plans to leave the enforcement of the law up to U.S. attorneys in each state. In exceptionally green-friendly states, that might mean that nothing changes, but at the very least it makes the legality seem a bit murky.

Specifically, he said prosecutors should take into account a department’s resources, the seriousness of the crime, and the deterrent effect of the prosecution before filing charges.

While a judge might not choose to prosecute a marijuana business for growing or selling, he or she could choose to do so. That means getting involved in the industry, even in states where its ‘legal’ is now a bit of a gamble.

Technically, people like growers and dispensary owners can now be prosecuted in recreationally legal states. The move could mean investors are less likely to fund marijuana-based companies.

And Sessions might already have a few judges in green-friendly states who share his point of view. On Wednesday Sessions picked 17 U.S attorneys to serve in interim posts across the United States, several are posted in states such as Washington, Nevada, and California where marijuana is legal.