COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s fledgling medical marijuana program won’t immediately be affected by a new federal marijuana enforcement policy announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Ohio regulators are moving ahead with establishing the program, and state medical marijuana programs are still protected by a federal budget amendment preventing the Department of Justice from spending money on enforcement in those states.
But industry players and experts said the policy change will generate more confusion and uncertainty about whether it’s legal to grow, sell and buy marijuana in Ohio and 28 other states while the drug remains illegal federally. And the move puts pressure on Congress to keep in place what’s become a $16 billion industry, according to one industry researcher.
Sessions on Thursday rescinded the Cole memo, named for the deputy attorney general who authored the policy, and several other Obama-era policies that together allowed regulated marijuana industries and state regulators to operate under state law. The 2013 Cole memo, which replaced a 2009 medical-only policy, directed prosecutors to focus on certain violations, such as diversion to minors or trafficking marijuana across state lines, and leave alone state law-abiding businesses and individuals.
Sessions’ new memo leaves enforcement to each district attorney. Ohio’s northern and southern district attorneys did not immediately answer questions about whether they plan to crack down on marijuana businesses operating under state law and directed questions to the U.S. Department of Justice in D.C.
Sessions, a former GOP senator and opponent of marijuana legalization, has previously repealed past DOJ directives to give more leeway to local authorities to enforce federal law.
President Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that he supported medical marijuana and states’ rights to legalize marijuana.
Policy change doesn’t immediately stop Ohio’s program
State regulators are nearing the end of a two-year process