January 8, 2018

U.S. Attorney doesn't rule out prosecuting cannabis industry

WBJ File
Regulated marijuana companies may not be safe from prosecution.

In a statement Monday afternoon, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts did not rule out prosecution of recreational marijuana businesses, even though the state voted to legalize the cultivation, sale and possession of the drug.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in a statement Monday afternoon said he cannot "provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade" won't be charged with federal drug crimes.

Lelling's comments come after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the so-called Cole Memo, an Obama-era guideline preventing the federal government from enforcing federal marijuana laws on individual states with marijuana legalized in some capacity.

The state voted in November 2016 in favor of legalizing marijuana, 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent, after already legalizing it for medical use in 2012. The use and possession of cannabis and associated products became legal in December, but companies aren't allowed to begin applying for recreational sales licenses until April. Stores will begin to to open in July.

The Cannabis Control Commission - a state board set up to regulate the industry - said the move won't have any impact on the business in the state, but Lelling's comments indicate otherwise.

"This is a straightforward rule of law issue," Lelling said, citing federal marijuana laws.

Lelling did, however, say he would proceed on a case-by-case basis.

"Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do," he said. "The kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process."


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