Sessions Suggests DOJ Preparing for Federal Crackdown on Recreational Marijuana

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes questions from the House Judiciary Committee on November 14. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Jeff Sessions is suggesting that federal authorities will crack down on marijuana, even in states where it has been legalized for recreational use.

The attorney general hinted of a coming Department of Justice crackdown on the drug on Wednesday, suggesting there were likely to be changes to the department's policy on cannabis, which has thus far hewed to Obama-era guidelines.

"We're looking at that very hard right now. We had a meeting yesterday and talked about it at some length," Sessions said at a press conference, The Sacramento Bee reported.

"It's my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and is subject to being enforced," he added.

The attorney general has previously said he believes cannabis is as harmful as heroin, though in a November hearing he appeared to have softened his stance on the drug. It is legal for medical use in 29 states and Washington, D.C., while recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and D.C., despite being prohibited on the federal level.

"Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the [Obama] policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes, but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes," said Sessions.

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Sessions has suggested there will be a federal crackdown on recreational cannabis. Reuters

Sessions has long been an opponent of marijuana legalization. He said in March that he did not back the "fashionable" view on weed legalization. However, his agency has not publicly moved to change the existing rider that prevents the federal government from getting involved in state marijuana laws, though that may be about to change.

"I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable," he said in a speech on combating crime.

And this week he reiterated his stance, suggesting the Department of Justice was working on a policy that could affect the states in which recreational marijuana is legal.

"We are working our way through to a rational policy, but I don't want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it," Sessions added.

His views have previously been challenged by legal-weed states. A report from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's office suggested the state's decision to legalize cannabis had not resulted in a significant increase in drug use among young people.