Sessions to Encourage Federal Prosecution of Marijuana in States Where It’s Legal

January 4, 2018

New York, NY – Attorney General Jeff Sessions will reportedly revoke a policy today that had encouraged federal prosecutors to stay out of state’s policies around recreational marijuana use. The Obama-era guidance had been championed by criminal justice reformers who cite over-enforcement of drug offenses as one driver of mass incarceration in America.

“Today’s policy change marks another major offensive in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ misguided revival of the ‘war on drugs,’” said Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “Most Democrats and Republicans agree: these tactics won’t work. Every dollar spent on enforcing marijuana is a dollar not spent helping combat opioid use, murders, violence, and serious financial crimes. This decision could jeopardize public safety in the long run.”

The move paves the way for federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue charges against individuals, even in states where recreational marijuana is legal. Medical marijuana, in states that have legalized it, is still off the table for federal prosecutors, as Congress recently took bipartisan action to extend an amendment that prevents any federal funds from being spent to interfere with state law.

“Federal prosecutors will now be encouraged to prosecute minor recreational marijuana cases, even in states that have fully legalized marijuana,” said Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “This sets up a major conflict between the states and the federal government. It’s also the second time Attorney General Sessions has changed Justice Department enforcement priorities to include lower-level offenses.”  

A Brennan Center report, Criminal Justice in Trump’s First 100 Days, predicted his shift from past enforcement policies, noting that “the resulting intrusion to state policy could upset some Republicans.”

For more information on work by the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, click here.

To set up an interview with a Brennan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646-292-8316.

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