Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled a potential change in federal marijuana policy, saying at a press conference that the Department of Justice was working “very hard right now” to develop “a rational policy” toward marijuana.
Currently, marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. While most states have allowed some form of lawful access to marijuana, including seven and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, federal law looms above them all.
As of now, the Trump administration has followed the approach of the Obama administration in taking a hands-off approach to states that chose to regulate marijuana. But with Sessions, who has publicly stated his belief that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” at the helm of the DOJ, there is great uncertainty about the course of federal action.
While it remains unclear what Sessions’ idea of a “rational policy” toward marijuana is, his remarks are understandably troubling many proponents of legalization.
“It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it,” he said. “And it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and it’s subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges we face.”
At least with respect to the claim that marijuana remains a federal violation, he is correct. And, setting aside the merits of federal enforcement of laws against marijuana, it remains within the powers of the federal government to prevent states from legalizing marijuana.
Ultimately, it is up to the Congress whether or not states and the federal government should even be in the position of having conflicting approaches to marijuana.
From a states-rights perspective, it makes sense to allow states to decide for themselves