Torrey Holistics
The interior of the Torrey Holistics dispensary in Sorrento Valley. Courtesy of the company

Just four days after recreational marijuana became legal in California, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday ended a federal policy that had cleared the way for states to legalize use of the drug.

Sessions rescinded a policy implemented under President Barack Obama in 2013 that allowed states to legalize the drug even though it is still prohibited by federal law. Now federal prosecutors in California and other states where marijuana is legal will have to decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana laws.

“Today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established 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,” Sessions said in a statement.

Under the Obama-era policy, federal authorities were told not to impede state statutes and urged only to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed, and keep it out of the hands of criminal gangs and children.

Lawmakers from both parties attacked the decision, noting that President Trump had promised not to interfere with the legalization of marijuana laws at the state level.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican representing Orange County, said Sessions “just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels” because a crackdown on marijuana use could simply lead to more people turning to the black market.

The policy change could have massive implications in San Diego and the rest of the state, where the marijuana business is expected to grow into a billion-dollar industry. Under the new policy, pot shops licensed and approved by state officials could be shut down by federal officials. Growers, sellers and users complying with state statutes could face charges and punishment in federal court.

With decisions left in the hands of individual U.S. attorneys, some areas could see no change while other areas could see major crackdowns.

In November, Veteran federal prosecutor Adam Braverman was sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California — which covers San Diego and Imperial counties — following his interim appointment by Sessions.

A news release from Braverman’s office praised him for spending “a significant part of his government career pursuing large-scale international drug trafficking cartels” and for leading the investigation and prosecution of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.

Braverman’s views on legalized recreational marijuana and how he might handle the mandate from Sessions were not immediately clear.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.