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Trump Administration Lifts Policy, Leaves Marijuana Legality Up to the Government

The Trump administration lifted a policy last week that was put into place by the Obama administration with regard to the legality of marijuana at the state level. Up until now, federal authorities were prevented from cracking down on marijuana sales in states were pot is legal. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now leaving it up to federal prosecutors to decide what is legal when state rules and federal drug laws do not coincide.

Said Sessions in one-page memo to federal prosecutors: "In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.”

This revision has created confusion in states where marijuana is currently legal. It has also caused rifts to form on both sides of the political table. It goes without saying that such a measure has infuriated those who support the legalization of marijuana, but some conservative Republicans are also upset by the measure, believing that the government is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong, and that such a decision should be left up to the discretion of the states.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado says that this change contradicts a pledge made to him by Sessions right before the latter was confirmed in his position as attorney general. Colorado is one of eight states that has thus far legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Gardner has since pledged to push legislation that would work to protect the sale of marijuana in his state, saying that he is prepared "to take all steps necessary" to do so. Gardner said he would even go so far as to hold up the confirmation of nominees for the Justice Department.

Conversely, Bob Troyer, Colorado's U.S. attorney, stated that his office will not adhere to Sessions' change and will not change the approach it has already taken to prosecuting crimes related to marijuana. Troyer said that his office has always focused on those crimes that posed the greatest threats to its citizens' safety and will continue to act in this regard.

Under the "hands-off approach" that the Obama administration established with regard to marijuana enforcement, the marijuana business has ultimately become a multimillion-dollar industry, with some of those proceeds going to fund select state government programs. Now that this policy has been lifted, the future insofar as the funding of those programs is left hanging in the balance.

Sessions has opposed marijuana for the majority, if not entirety, of his political career. While still acting as a senator for Alabama, he vehemently opposed the legalization of marijuana, comparing it to heroin insofar as the potential dangers of its properties. Trump, on the other hand, maintained that marijuana laws be left up to the states while campaigning, and his personal views on the legalization of marijuana have remained a mystery.

Another uncertainty is how this provision will affect those states where marijuana has been legalized for medical purposes. While there is a congressional amendment in place to stop the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, justice officials have said they would follow the law but would not rule out the possibility of prosecuting people for potential crimes related to medical marijuana.