The Trump administration’s Department of Justice has taken essentially the same stance on enforcing federal marijuana laws as during former President Barack Obama’s time in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told lawmakers Tuesday.
Testifying during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Mr. Sessions was asked to clarify the current administration’s pot policy as a growing number of states look toward defying federal law by legalizing recreational and medical marijuana.
“Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes,” Mr. Sessions told Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican.
Marijuana is outlawed by the federal government and considered a Schedule 1 substance on par with heroin, but neither Eric Holder nor Loretta Lynch, Mr. Obama’s attorneys general, elected to interfere in states that legalized weed for recreational or medicinal purposes.
Eight states and the nation’s capital legalized recreational marijuana by the time Mr. Obama left office, including five states where adults can currently purchase retail weed from government-licensed dispensaries. And while 29 states and counting have legalized medical marijuana, the plant’s classification as a Schedule 1 substance prevents doctors and scientists from obtaining federal funds to study its potential benefits.
Mr. Sessions frequently rallied against marijuana legalization as a Republican member of the U.S. Senate before becoming the nation’s top law enforcer this year, raising concerns within the cannabis industry by stakeholders fearing a potential crackdown by the Trump DOJ.
“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Mr. Sessions said during an April 2016 Senate hearing before President Trump was elected. “We need grownups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger.”
More recently, Mr. Sessions called marijuana a “life-wrecking” drug that is “only slightly less awful” than heroin during an event this past March cited Tuesday by Rep. Stephen Cohen, Tennessee Democrat.
“Marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin — do you agree with that?” Mr. Cohen asked the attorney general during Tuesday’s hearing.
“I think that’s correct,” Mr. Sessions replied.
Mr. Sessions directed a Justice Department task force in April to review the prior administration’s marijuana policies and make recommendation from the Trump White House, including the possibility of classifying marijuana as something other than a Schedule 1 substance, but the group mostly concluded to keep existing policies in place, the Associated Press reported in August.
Slightly less than two-thirds of Americans surveyed last month said they favor legalizing marijuana, according to the result of a recent Gallup poll, signaling the highest level of public support since the pollster began asking respondents in 1969.
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