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Crime & Justice

How DOJ's change to pot prosecution affects CA's biz

AG Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice in Washington.
AG Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP

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It's been four days since California legalized recreational marijuana, but its future just got hazy with today's announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Justice Department will let prosecutors aggressively enforce federal pot laws.

Take Two looked at what this means for the state's fledgling industry with Alex Kreit, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, where he teaches marijuana policy and illegal drug law. 


What does this mean for people who want to buy recreational pot in California?

I don't think it's likely that legal sales will stop, at least immediately.

Certainly if I was running one of these businesses I would be very concerned, but the reality is is that people who are operating these stores and who have the temporary licenses selling marijuana already, they're already committing federal crimes and it's possible they could be prosecuted for what they're doing right now.

What does this mean for established businesses who have their permits, or may still have a permit to sell medical marijuana?

There is separately a restriction in place right now in the federal budget that prevents the Department of Justice from using money to prosecute medical marijuana businesses.

So if you're already operating a medical marijuana store, this announcement might make you think twice about about whether you want to go into the recreational side of things.

Could arrests happen immediately?

Just because the memo has been rescinded, that doesn't necessarily mean that prosecutions are going to start.

It's entirely possible that some of these local federal prosecutors offices – or maybe even all of them – decide, 'hey we want to stick with the status quo and we're not going to use our resources to go after state-legal businesses.'

Who are the federal prosecutors that oversee Southern California, then?

Right now it's an acting U.S. Attorney. [President] Trump has not appointed a U.S. Attorney to fulfill that role for the long-term. 

It's kind of all the more curious about the timing of this that Sessions would announce this policy while they're still U.S. Attorneys positions that haven't been filled, particularly in California.

This is going to be a big point of contention, I would imagine, in the nomination and confirmation of whoever it is that Trump ultimately chooses.