Today the Department of Justice issued a Memo on Marijuana Enforcement “announcing a return to the rule of law and the rescission of previous guidance documents”. In a nutshell, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has determined the DOJ will no longer take the hands off approach that the Obama administration adopted.
Sessions’ decision to make such a move really comes as no surprise. The Attorney General is known for his sour feelings towards the legalization of marijuana. Politico reported on this in December of 2016 when Sessions was a nominee for his current position:
“By nominating Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for attorney general, President-elect Donald J. Trump is about to put into the nation’s top law enforcement job a man with a long and antagonistic attitude toward marijuana.”
Less than three weeks ago, North Dakota’s Secretary of State Al Jaeger approved a petition for circulation to put the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana on the ballot. In response to the Department of Justice’s memo, Josh Dryer – the Campaign Manager for the group responsible for North Dakota’s legalization effort – released this statement to The Minuteman:
“Our campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota is not threatened by the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We believe in our elected officials who represent the states who have already legalized marijuana, in one form or another, will not allow Mr. Sessions to go unchecked. If anything, we believe this should work in favor of our movement and speed things up for federal rule changes. Even if you have no opinion on marijuana reform this ultimately comes down to a states’ rights issue.”
How the DOJ memo will affect North Dakota remains to be seen. In the case of Colorado – who legalized recreational marijuana in November of 2012 – the U.S. Attorney’s Office there issued this statement:
“Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. 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. 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.”
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R – Colorado) was a bit more emphatic in his statement on the issue:
“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states.
“I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
Sessions’ position on this is actually a Constitutionally incorrect one. For example, it required the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for prohibition of alcohol. After realizing the prohibition was ineffective, the 21st Amendment repealed that prohibition. But no Constitutional Amendment was ever passed authorizing the federal government to prohibit marijuana. Dryer is right. This is most definitely a states’ rights issue– a sentiment U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R – Kentucky) also expressed today:
“I continue to believe that this is a states’ rights issue, and the federal government has better things to focus on.”
Just prior to the revamped Medical Marijuana bill (SB 2344) being voted on in the North Dakota House this last Legislative Session, House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R – District 41) spoke to the issue of its illegality at the federal level on the House floor. In his remarks, he expressed his belief that it wouldn’t be the last time the Legislature dealt with the issue. He even voiced his anticipation that they would do so again in 2019. You can see his remarks here .
The question now will be how North Dakota’s elected officials respond? With Medical Marijuana already legalized in the state – and the potential for recreational to follow – North Dakota may have to nullify the federal government’s approach.
Hopefully Dryer is right and this actually works in favor of speeding up federal rule changes. Wasting taxpayer resources on prosecuting non-violent drug offenders is pointless. Rand Paul is correct. The federal government has better things to do. And North Dakota doesn’t need the headache of federal pressure.