In response to the legalization of medical and recreational use of marijuana at the state level, the Obama administration through its Justice Department announced it would not pursue the enforcement of federal marijuana laws over the legalization of the drug in some states. In a November 2016 interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, President Obama expressed the federal government position this way:
“It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year sentence in another.
But the current presidential administration sees the federal marijuana enforcement much differently. Last month White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced that the Trump administration expects drug enforcement agencies to enforce federal marijuana laws regardless of what any given state’s position may be on the drug.
Public comments indicate the driving force behind the new federal enforcement issue is being fueled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. President Trump is obviously acquiescing to the position taken by his attorney general because in 2015 the president’s position was, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”
Trump has also made comments supporting medical marijuana.
However, the new federal marijuana enforcement attitude should not be a surprise. Whether it is healthcare, police discrimination, or transgender youth use of bathrooms, the Trump administration is clearly dedicated to dismantling all the socially progressive programs put in place by the Obama administration.
So what does federal marijuana enforcement mean for users in legalized states?
Federal Drug Enforcement in “Wait-and-See” Mode
The Trump administration has made a lot of promises about a lot of different things. Chances are, not all of them will be enforced or realized in the next four years.
When it comes to stricter enforcement of federal marijuana laws, the issue remains in flux at the moment. While Spicer has said that while he believes there will be “greater enforcement of it” and it’s something that “the Department of Justice will be looking further into,” no firm enforcement policy has been forthcoming.
Moreover, marijuana advocates have a pretty good argument for keeping marijuana legal if and when the Department of Justice does decide to look into it. Namely, that it’s a thriving industry. In Colorado alone, the legal cannabis industry has employed tens of thousands of people and helped to fund many state education programs through the $100 million in taxes the industry has brought in.
Will marijuana legalization be reversed anytime soon?
That is hard to say. What is far more likely is that the legalization effort will lose steam during the Trump administration.
Of course, marijuana is only one drug. What about federal enforcement of other illegal substances?
White House Orders Concerning Other Drug Crimes
Soon after swearing in Jeff Sessions as the U.S. Attorney General, (read more about Sessions, and his views on drug crimes here), Trump signed three executive actions calling on law enforcement agencies to crack down on federal drug crimes and criminal organizations.
The first order focuses on international criminal organizations. The order asks federal law enforcement to “give high priority and devote sufficient resources to going after such organizations, including extraditing members to face prosecution in the United States, where possible, and deporting foreign nationals who are members of such groups.”
The order also asks federal law enforcement to look over laws that are currently used to combat international crime groups, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (the measure that, coincidentally enough, made his immigration ban from a few weeks ago illegal).
The second order addresses crimes against law enforcement. It directs the Justice Department to review federal laws to determine whether they adequately protect law enforcement at all levels. The attorney general will make recommendations to Congress that could include suggesting more federal laws increasing or adding mandatory minimum sentences for crimes against law enforcement.
So far, there isn’t much to say about the suggestions Sessions has made – although recently he announced that in protecting law enforcement, the Department of Justice will “pull back” on investigations of civil rights violations committed by law enforcement agencies around the country.
The third order authorizes the Justice Department to establish a task force that will work to “reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime.” Despite statistics that show crime rates have been at their lowest since the 60s, Sessions insists that the country has a crime problem, and that crime rates are rising.
These orders echo the origin of Nixon’s War on Drugs that led to what has become the nation’s prison industrial complex. It is reasonable to assume that federal law enforcement in all areas will dramatically increase over the next four years. If you become a target of federal law enforcement, you need to reach out to a knowledgeable federal defense lawyer who can help you mount a strong defense against any charges brought against you.