WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A decision from the country's top prosecutor jeopardizes legal marijuana's future.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions freed federal prosecutors to go after pot cases as they see fit, even in states where marijuana is legal.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) calls it a prudent step. "I think that the statement of the Attorney General is that it is still illegal at the federal level and I support that," he said.
The Obama administration told prosecutors to consider factors other than possession and sale, like diversion to children or gangs ties, before pursuing a case. Sessions' Thursday memo eliminates those rules.
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said limited federal resources should be spent to address more important issues. "We're going to go after somebody buying pot, legally, in their state? Give me a break," he said.
The Green Mountain state's federal prosecutor said with any drug case, her focus is on addressing violence. "Nothing has changed in terms of the principles we use to decide which cases to bring," said Christina Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont.
Recreational marijuana businesses are immediately exposed to prosecution. Medical marijuana dispensaries and their patients are not, but could be soon if lawmakers allow a legal protection to expire with the current budget.
Advocates for medical marijuana patients and providers - like Steph Sherer with Americans for Safe Access - describe the protection as "a ceasefire." She said she hopes Sessions' move leads Congress to permanently offer the medical marijuana community protection, rather than renewing it every year.
Spokespeople for groups that voice concern about the commercialization and health impacts of marijuana said all medication should be approved by federal regulators before it's sold. "Medical marijuana products should be no different," said Luke Niferatos with Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
In just a couple of weeks, it will be up to Congress, not Attorney General Sessions, to decide whether medical marijuana keeps its protected status.