Politicians representing states that have legalised marijuana have lambasted Jeff Sessions for rescinding a hands-off federal approach to cannabis.
An Obama-era directive had essentially let states manage their own burgeoning marijuana marketplaces, promising an easing of raids and other federal enforcement actions as long as states had enacted “strong and effective regulatory systems”.
In reversing that decision, Mr Sessions potentially upended a growing cannabis industry that has seen eight states with a combined population of nearly 67 million people authorise recreational use since 2014 (another 29 states offer medical marijuana.
Elected officials, some of whom who had warned Mr Sessions off of a possible crackdown in recent months, condemned his move and vowed to press ahead. The backlash spanned the political spectrum, with Democrats and Republicans from states with recreational cannabis industries blasting what they called federal infringement.
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner portrayed Mr Sessions’ shift as a betrayal, saying on Twitter that it “directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation” and “trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states”. He threatened political retaliation.
“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,” said Mr Gardner, who is a Republican.
In California, where a legal marijuana marketplace approved by voters in 2016 is only days old, members of both parties assailed Mr Sessions. Rep Dana Rorhbacher, an Orange County Republican, said the Attorney General had “delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels”.
“By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributers to marijuana itself,” Mr Rohrbacher said in a statement. “He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to see a perpetual weed war”.
Rep Ted Lieu, a Democrat representing the Los Angeles area, said Mr Sessions wanted to “take America back to the 1920s,” adding that “Prohibition didn't work then and it will not work now”.
California Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax said she was conferring with the state's attorney general but had no plans to halt the state's rollout of recreational sales.
“We’ll continue to move forward with the state's regulatory processes covering both medicinal and adult-use cannabis consistent with the will of California’s voters, while defending our state's laws to the fullest extent,” Ms Ajax said in a statement.
Colorado Republican Mike Coffman said in a statement that “Colorado had every right to legalize marijuana, and I will do everything I can to protect that right against the power of an overreaching federal government”. Alaska Sen Lisa Murkowski, also a Republican, called the announcement “disruptive to state regulatory regimes and regrettable”.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said Mr Trump had promised to let states establish their own policies but “Now he's breaking that promise so Jeff Sessions can pursue his extremist anti-marijuana crusade,” Mr Wyden, a Democrat, said on Twitter. Nevada Rep
State officials were defiant, saying they would not bow to federal pressure. Nevada Rep Dina Titus said she would “fight for businesses that are legally operating in states, contributing to tax bases, & creating jobs”.
“Make no mistake,” Washington Gov Jay Inslee said, “…we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement”.
The mayor of Seattle, Washington's largest city, echoed her governor's statement in saying her police department would not alter its approach, saying in a statement that “Seattle won't be bullied by the Trump Administration”.
“Let's be clear: Our Seattle Police Department will not participate in any enforcement action related to legal businesses or small personal possession of marijuana by adults,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “Federal law enforcement will find no partner with Seattle to enforce the rollback of these provisions”.
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