WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors where pot is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the people said.
The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday.
The move by President Donald Trump's attorney general likely will add to confusion about whether it's OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where pot is legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it. It comes days after pot shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world's largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.
While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump's top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to pot policy reflect his own concerns. Trump's personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.
Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Pot advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.
The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.
The pot business has since become a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and California's sales alone are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.
Sessions' policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts, the people familiar with the decision said.
Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers that have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for pot opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.
"There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it's also the beginning of the story and not the end," said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. "This is a victory. It's going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years."
Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states' rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses.
Marijuana advocates quickly condemned Sessions' move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.
Sessions "wants to maintain a system that has led to tremendous injustice ... and that has wasted federal resources on a huge scale," said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "If Sessions thinks that makes sense in terms of prosecutorial priorities, he is in a very bizarre ideological state, or a deeply problematic one."
A task force Sessions convened to study pot policy made no recommendations for upending the legal industry but instead encouraged Justice Department officials to keep reviewing the Obama administration's more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement, something Sessions promised to do since he took office.
The change also reflects yet another way in which Sessions, who served as a federal prosecutor at the height of the drug war in Mobile, Alabama, has reversed Obama-era criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced. While his Democratic predecessor Eric Holder told federal prosecutors to avoid seeking long mandatory minimum sentences when charging certain lower level drug offenders, for example, Sessions issued an order demanding the opposite, telling them to pursue the most serious charges possible against most suspects.
COOS BAY — Boat owners docked at the Coos Bay Boardwalk have once again pleaded to the Coos Bay City Council for increased security on the Boardwalk.
After five boat break-ins in the past year the boat owners feel a gate, which would only be locked late at night, should be placed at the entrance to the docks to prevent people breaking in to the boats.
Marina host for the Coos Bay Boardwalk, Fred Fisher, said “We’re not wanting to keep people from coming down to the docks, because it’s a public area, but basically after 9 or 10 p.m. if you don’t have business on then you don’t have any business on the dock.”
There are 23 boats docked at the Coos Bay Boardwalk. Boat owners who have had their boats broken into have experienced not only theft but also property damage.
“We’ve had the luxury of a long time of not having to have locks. It’s been a nice town to live in, much nicer than some places, but maybe those times have come to a close,” Fisher said.
City council seemed interested in helping the dock dwellers. Owners even offered to help with the cost of their purposed gate.
There were around 10 people who showed up to express their displeasure with the current level of security the boardwalk docks. In the interest of saving time the council scheduled a work session with the boat owners three weeks from last Tuesday so that everyone would be able to voice their opinion on the issue.
Mayor Joe Benetti said at meeting, “I appreciate the boats being down there as an attraction. It’s something that a long time ago I was an advocate for… I want you to know we’re going to have our staff look into this.”
It’s uncertain whether or not the city council will approve the request for a gate at the docks or not, but a work session is a step in the right direction.
“I didn’t expect anyone to jump up and build a gate tomorrow, but the wheels of the city are turning and that’s what we want,” Fisher said.
According to Fisher some of the boardwalk residents have taken precautionary measures since the influx of break-ins, some setting up motion lights to hopefully deter criminals.
The boat owners are asking for a gate that would be open during the day but would be locked at night by either a key pad combination or a key card so that dock residents could still come and go if they needed.
COOS BAY — At Tuesday night’s Coos Bay City Council meeting, a public comment brought to the attention of the Council that it might be advantageous to have sidewalks developed in Eastside Coos Bay.
The resident pointed out that there would be a significant rise in foot traffic after the new school, paid for by Best Bond funds, opens. He also noted that there were several older members of the community that like to walk around, but lack the safety of sidewalk in many places around Eastside.
City Council, seemed interested in the idea and said they would look into funding the project.
Mayor Joe Benetti said “It’s something we need to think about. It’s something we should definitely look at and see how maybe we can accommodate. We’ll look into it.”
The city is hoping to get money for the potential project from grants. Specifically the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Safe routes to Schools grant.
According to Director of the Public Works Department Jim Hossley if the city were to get a grant through ODOT’s Safe Routes to Schools they would likely have to match anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of the grant. However they have other grants they’ll be looking into.
Hossley said that the trouble with planning for sidewalks is the cost can vary quite a bit. He said a mile of sidewalk can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million depending on the terrain.