54 Members of Congress Want Feds to Back Off Pot Enforcement

January 25, 2018 GMT

By Colin A. Young

State House News Service

BOSTON -- Led by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a bipartisan group of 54 congressional lawmakers on Thursday sent a letter to the president asking him to overrule his attorney general and go back to a hands-off federal approach to marijuana law enforcement. Reps. James McGovern, D-2nd, Niki Tsongas, D-3rd, and Seth Moulton, D-6th, are among those who signed.

The letter to President Donald Trump highlights his comments as a candidate that marijuana policy should be left “up to the states” and asks him to instruct U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reinstate the Cole Memorandum, an Obama-era policy that allowed states to establish their own legal marijuana markets without federal law enforcement interference.

When Sessions rescinded that guidance on Jan. 4, he left decisions about the prosecution of federal marijuana cases up to local federal prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling has repeatedly said he will not rule out bringing federal charges against businesses or employees involved in the state-legal marijuana industry, though he says his main focus will be on bulk traffickers.

“This action has the potential to unravel efforts to build sensible drug policies that encourage economic development as we are finally moving away from antiquated practices that have hurt disadvantaged communities,” the members of Congress wrote. “This new guidance will have a chilling effect across the country in states that have worked tirelessly to implement voter-approved laws, creating legal and economic uncertainty.”

Also signing are U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Michael Capuano, both of Massachusetts.

Nine states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have passed laws to legalize the use of marijuana by people 21 or older, though the substance remains wholly illegal at the federal level.