DENVER (AP) — Whether to crack down on marijuana in states where it is legal is a decision that will now rest with those states’ top federal prosecutors, many of whom are deeply rooted in their communities and may be reluctant to pursue cannabis businesses or their customers.
When he rescinded the Justice Department’s previous guidance on marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions left the issue to a mix of prosecutors who were appointed by President Donald Trump’s administration and others who are holdovers from the Barack Obama years.
Legal experts do not expect a flood of new cases, and people familiar with the job of U.S. attorney say prosecutors could decide against using already limited resources to seek criminal charges against cannabis companies that abide by state regulations or their customers.
“There are higher priorities: terrorism and opiates to start with,” said Rory Little, a former prosecutor and a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. “You also have to draw the jury pool from the local people, who appear to generally support the state policy. You’re not going to waste your resources on cases you can’t win or cases your community is against.”
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Until Sessions’ announcement on Thursday, federal prosecutors followed guidelines laid out in the so-called Cole memo, which was issued by the Justice Department during the Obama administration. The memo discouraged prosecutors from going after people participating in the marijuana trade in states where recreational marijuana is legal, except in cases with aggravating factors.
Sessions revoked that document and others, citing the fact that pot remains illegal under federal law.
Federal prosecutors are not elected, but they often have long histories working in their districts. They are surrounded by attorneys who have spent their careers arguing federal cases before judges who can make their displeasure with a U.S. attorney known in sentencing decisions and in the scheduling of cases. That environment will not change because of a memo from the attorney general, Little said.
But the change will undoubtedly create some confusion and an uneven landscape, said John Walsh, the former U.S. attorney for Colorado appointed by Obama who left the office in 2016.
Prosecutors in Western states wanted guidance from the Justice Department when the likelihood of…