NASBA: Sessions Changes Course on DOJ Marijuana Enforcement Policy

Source: NASBA Legislative eNews

January 9, 2018

On January 1, 2018, recreational marijuana became legal in California. A few days later, on January 4, U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions rescinded multiple memos that have guided the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) approach to marijuana enforcement since 2013. In so doing, Sessions issued a memo stating that nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.” As a result, states where marijuana, especially recreational marijuana, is legalized have been left to guess as to how individual U.S. attorneys may approach marijuana enforcement.

Previously, the DOJ had guided U.S. attorneys to deprioritize marijuana enforcement except in certain circumstances. Individual U.S. attorneys are now directed to apply “prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”

It is important to note that the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, which must be renewed annually, prohibits the Department of Justice from expending funds to enforce federal law with respect to states where medical marijuana is legalized. This protection for medical marijuana has been the subject of much debate as Attorney General Sessions has requested that the Amendment be excluded from upcoming appropriations bills.

As reported in our September 2017 E-news, Attorney General Sessions has also recently called into question the regulatory structure and enforcement by states where recreational marijuana has been legalized. These developments and the resulting uncertainty may heighten the focus on state board positions on discipline relating to CPAs providing services to marijuana-related businesses and individuals.