July 11, 2018

U.S. Attorney for Mass. gives tepid assurances to legal pot industry

Photo | Matt Wright
Marijuana plants growing at Sira Naturals' Milford facility

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling issued a statement Tuesday expanding upon his previous comments about how his office will approach the newly state-legal marijuana industry, which remains wholly illegal under federal law.

"Because I have a constitutional obligation to enforce the laws passed by Congress, I will not effectively immunize the residents of the Commonwealth from federal marijuana enforcement," Lelling said in a statement. "My office's resources, however, are primarily focused on combatting the opioid epidemic that claims thousands of lives in the Commonwealth each year."

Lelling said he expects his office will focus on three areas of federal marijuana law enforcement: overproduction, sales targeted to minors and organized crime involvement in the industry.

Overproduction, the federal prosecutor said, "creates the risk of illegal, and lucrative, marijuana sales to users in nearby states where recreational marijuana use remains illegal." The Cannabis Control Commission is hoping its seed-to-sale tracking system will help limit overproduction and diversion.

Lelling said he expects adolescent use of marijuana "will surely now increase" and said that legalization advocates "fail to emphasize the risks marijuana use poses for minors." He said targeted sales to minors "may warrant federal prosecution."

Federal authorities will continue to prosecute organized crime organizations that "distribute drugs in violation of federal law, regardless of whether that distribution is legal under state laws," Lelling said.

"To that end, federal investigators will continue to police the Commonwealth for incoming or outgoing shipments of cash as well as use of the federal banking system," he said.

Lelling said his office will evaluate marijuana-related prosecution on a case-by-case basis and that his statement was "only intended to clarify which aspects of the state-level marijuana industry are most likely to warrant federal involvement."

In his statement, the U.S. attorney erroneously claimed the state legalized the distribution of marijuana as of July 1. There was no change to state marijuana laws on July 1. That date had been the target date for retail sales to begin, but marijuana growing, possession and use became legal in December 2016.

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