What does Jeff Sessions' shift on marijuana policy mean?

The attorney general ends the policy of non-interference in states where pot has been decriminalized.

What's happening?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday announced that the Justice Department is reversing Obama-era rules of non-interference with states that have legalized marijuana.

While multiple states – including Washington, Oregon and (just recently) California – have decriminalized the drug and allowed it to be sold by businesses, it remains an illegal drug under federal law.

As the legalization movement gained traction during his tenure, former President Barack Obama's Justice Department adopted a policy, known as The Cole Memo, not to interfere with states' rights on this. They would only enforce marijuana laws if it threatened other federal priorities (such as drug trafficking).

Sessions intends to end this policy.

What does this mean?

The full impact isn't known just yet, though the Washington Post reports it potentially paves the way for the federal government to crack down on states' legal pot industries.

Fox News says Sessions is expected to announce he wants to leave it to U.S. attorneys in states where the drug is legal to decide to what extent they will enforce federal laws – so it might not have that much of an impact if prosecutors work in a state friendly toward marijuana use.

At the very least it's going to cause confusion among users and suppliers about whether they can grow, buy and sell marijuana. It's proved to be a lucrative industry in decriminalized states, worth $2.4 billion as of fall 2016 in Colorado alone, the Denver Post reports.

What's the reaction been?

When word of Sessions' intentions got out, one of the most striking responses came from a Republican, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

He took to Twitter Thursday morning vowing to fight efforts to enforce federal law in his home state, claiming Sessions had promised him prior to becoming attorney general that he would not take this step.

Elsewhere, the move is being seen as a potential vote loser for the Republican Party, with some arguing it will encourage a higher youth turnout and could also dissuade those with Libertarian leanings to vote GOP.

What's the impact on Minnesota?

Minnesota is not one of the states that allows marijuana sales, and judging by recent efforts to change that, it's not likely to legalize recreational pot anytime soon.

Two bills were proposed by Democrats in the 2017 legislative session, one calling for cannabis to be regulated in a similar way to alcohol, the other calling for a referendum vote on whether it should be legalized or not.

But with Republicans in control of both the Minnesota House and Senate right now, and Gov. Mark Dayton clearly stating he isn't for legal recreational marijuana, there's little likelihood anything will pass in 2018, barring some sort of change.


Meet the Minnesotan behind LeafLine Labs – one of MN's medical marijuana providers

Minnesota does allow the use of medical marijuana, though it remains one of the strictest medical pot systems in the country – even as more conditions have been added to the list of those that qualify for the drug.

Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo would not have any impact on the state's medical marijuana program. That's because it's protected under a different non-interference policy, Rohrabacher-Farr, which was passed by Congress in 2001.

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