The decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy on federal marijuana enforcement sparked an outcry from Republicans and Democrats. Their criticism: Sessions was trampling on the rights of states that had decided to legalize pot for medical or recreational use, or both. Pot remains illegal under federal law, and Sessions’ new direction lets federal prosecutors in areas where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce that law.
Here’s a look at how states have broken with the federal government on pot and the tension that has generated:
THE LEGALIZATION PUSH:
Federal law classifies marijuana along with heroin and LSD among the most dangerous drugs, with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Efforts to change that classification have failed. A federal judge in California in 2015 considered the issue, but then decided it was up to Congress to change the law if it wishes.
An increasing number of states, meanwhile, have legalized marijuana. California led the way in 1996, when voters approved marijuana for medical use. Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana with voter-approved measures in 2012. Eight states, including California, have now legalized marijuana for recreational use and more than 30 have medical marijuana programs.
Critics of Sessions’ decision, including members of the Republican Party, say the federal government should respect the wishes of local voters and stay out of state’s marijuana choices. They cite the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says states have all powers that the constitution does not delegate to the U.S. government or deny them.
“Today’s decision announced by the Department of Justice is a direct violation of states’ rights,” said U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. Alaska allows recreational marijuana use. Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner from Colorado