Department of Justice officials discussed revamping the federal government’s marijuana policies as recently as this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday.
Addressing reporters following a news briefing on opioid addiction, Mr. Sessions said the Justice Department held meetings on Tuesday weighing what to do with the so-called “Cole Memo,” a document drafted during the Obama administration and regarded as a rubric for states looking to legalize marijuana without triggering federal intervention.
“As you think through ways to combat all drugs, have you given any further thought to federal treatment of marijuana and whether you want to keep the Cole Memo in place,” a reporter asked Mr. Sessions after the news briefing.
“We…talked about it at some length,” he added.
Written in 2013 by James Cole, former President Obama’s deputy attorney general, the memorandum essentially allows states to legalize marijuana notwithstanding the federal government’s prohibition on pot.
More than half the states in the country legalized marijuana for recreational or medical purposes by the time President Trump took office earlier this year, sounding alarms within the cannabis industry given his attorney general’s adamantly anti-weed stance.
“It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental and we should not give encouragement in any way to it,” Mr. Sessions reiterated Wednesday. “And it represents a federal violation which is in the law and is subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges that we face.”
“We’ve got fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription drugs and marijuana and other drugs. So we’ll be 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,” Mr. Sessions added.
Marijuana is classified under federal law as a Schedule 1 substance, putting in the same category as heroin and other narcotics considered prone to abuse and void of medical value, according to the government.
Twenty-nine states and counting have passed laws letting doctors recommend the plant to patients, however, including nine where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use.
About two-third of Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to the results of a Gallup poll published last month.