Up in smoke: Jeff Sessions intensifies crackdown on marijuana sales

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) makes opening remarks to a panel of Department of Homeland Security officials John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations; Anh Duong, director of Border and Maritime Division of Homeland Security's Advanced Research Projects Agency; Craig Healy, assistant director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's National Security Investigations Division; and Rebecca Gambler,director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, as they testify about the unimplemented biometric exit tracking system before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2016. (CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett)
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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) makes opening remarks to a panel of Department of Homeland Security officials John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations; Anh Duong, director of Border and Maritime Division of Homeland Security's Advanced Research Projects Agency; Craig Healy, assistant director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's National Security Investigations Division; and Rebecca Gambler,director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, as they testify about the unimplemented biometric exit tracking system before the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2016. (CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

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Four days after the recreational sale of cannabis became legal in California, Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted an Obama-era policy that allowed states to legalize marijuana with minimal federal interference.

Memos issued by the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama discouraged the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that had legalized the drug. But on Thursday, Sessions rescinded this guidance in a memo of his own sent to U.S. attorneys.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during her Thursday press briefing that President Donald Trump “strongly believes” in the enforcement of federal law. Trump has not yet commented formally on the matter.

Étienne Fontán, president of Berkeley Patients Group, or BPG, the longest continuously operating medical cannabis dispensary in the country, said BPG has the support of local and state officials.

Fontan said in an email that Sessions’ action contradicts both public sentiment and his “longtime stated” support of states’ rights.

California lawmakers across the political spectrum spoke out against Sessions’ memo.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom called Sessions’ behaviors an “ideological temper tantrum” in a press release issued Thursday and said the vast majority of Americans support marijuana legalization.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, said this is a “profound misreading of the Constitution” in a statement also issued Thursday.

“As it has on other issues, California will stand together to pursue all legal, legislative and political options to protect its reforms and its rights as a state,” Newsom said in the press release.

According to a statement from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, California will continue to uphold Proposition 64 in a way that is “consistent with the will of California’s voters.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said “nothing has changed” regarding Berkeley’s implementation of adult-use cannabis.

Comprehensive regulations about the sale of marijuana are expected to come to Berkeley City Council by April, according to Chakko.

“We stayed and fought in the past and we triumphed,” Fontán said in an email. “While further action by AG Sessions and the acting US Attorney for the Northern District of California remains to be seen, we will continue to serve our community as we have done for nearly twenty years.”

Anjali Shrivastava covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.