January 8, 2018

Mass. marijuana activists want clarity on federal enforcement

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Marijuana activists want to know how the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts will approach enforcement of the federal marijuana prohibition in light of the Trump administration's recent policy shift.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week revoked an Obama era policy and gave newly-minted U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling discretion over enforcing federal marijuana laws in the Bay State, where voters in 2016 legalized marijuana for adult use.

Lelling's statement issued Thursday did not indicate whether he would maintain the status quo or shift the office's priorities to target state-sanctioned marijuana businesses or traditional black market marijuana traffickers.

"Massachusetts voters deserve clear, unambiguous answers from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling to the following questions: Will your office prosecute businesses granted a license by the Cannabis Control Commission in the areas of cultivation, testing, manufacturing or sales and lawfully operating within all parameters of that license? And will your office pursue charges against licensed cannabis businesses lawfully utilizing banking services or the banks lawfully providing those services?" Jim Borghesani, local spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement Monday morning.

Lelling's office did not immediately respond to a News Service inquiry Monday. In his statement Thursday, Lelling singled out "bulk cultivation and trafficking cases, and those who use the federal banking system illegally" as areas of priority for his office.

The Cannabis Control Commission said it will forge ahead with establishing a legal market for marijuana -- retail sales are expected to begin July 1 -- despite the policy shift in Washington.

Kevin Conroy, a former deputy attorney general who now as a partner at Foley Hoag, writes a blog on the intersection of marijuana and the law, said Sessions' decision to rescind the so-called Cole Memorandum likely will not affect the Massachusetts medical marijuana program and that "it seems unlikely that US Attorney Lelling will want to prosecute state sanctioned actors" while Massachusetts structures a regulated marijuana industry

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