In 2012, Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics showed there were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession and only 256,000 for "cocaine, heroin, and their derivatives". The Obama era guidelines gave some leeway on this point, stating that prosecutors should leave states well enough alone when it comes to legalizing marijuana, as long as these local decisions didn't interfere with federal law enforcement primary directives. "We will, consistent with the Attorney General's latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado".
That statement includes rescission of the Cole Memo, issued in 2013 and long regarded as providing a safe haven by cannabis entrepreneurs. Federal agencies have "not historically devoted resources to prosecuting individuals whose conduct is limited to possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use on private property".
James Dunn covers technology, biotech, law, the food industry, and banking and finance. According to Quinnipiac polls, almost 75 percent of voters are against the federal government prosecuting people for marijuana in states that have legalized it.
On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo that enables the federal government to intervene in the legalization of marijuana throughout each state.
Other state officials expressed disappointment.
"The memo set out harms we saw associated with marijuana" but essentially said that otherwise "let's let the states deal with this", Cole told CNN. Liberals and conservatives alike hold their policy commitments more deeply than any federalist principles, and they invoke those principles as weapons of convenience in their fights over policy.
Here's how the Sessions memo affects five areas of Colorado's legal marijuana field. The memo discouraged prosecutors from going after people participating in the marijuana trade in states where recreational marijuana is legal, except in cases with aggravating factors. The United States Attorney's Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions - focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state.
President Trump, who in other contexts has advocated "states' rights", provided a degree of support for his attorney general through spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. "The voters of California and Los Angeles have spoken and we will continue doing our job of reasonably regulating the cannabis industry in spite of Washington running amok".
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But rescinding the Obama policy could have a chilling effect on the burgeoning marijuana legalization movement.
The author of the Obama administration's policy, James Cole, told the AP it was meant to put states on notice that they had to regulate the industry and the federal government would still prosecute cases that threatened public safety.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called Sessions' decision "outrageous".
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from OR, where marijuana is also legal, similarly blasted the move.
However, Jeff Sessions' stand point is strictly speaking correct. But they can push legislation to protect marijuana sales.
Arcview Group, an Oakland investment and market research firm that studies the cannabis industry, forecast an $11 billion US market for legal marijuana this year - just over 60 percent for medical use, the rest for recreational use - and said it would continue to expand.
Congress voted in its last session to extend a spending provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which blocks the Justice Department from using federal funds to impede the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The open question is how broadly or narrowly that appropriations rider may be interpreted down the line, as it is an unsettled issue in the federal courts.