U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time opponent of marijuana legalization, promised stricter enforcement of federal law when he ascended to the top job at the U.S. Department of Justice. He probably didn’t envision what happened last week in California.
Sessions gave U.S. attorneys the discretion to enforce federal laws against marijuana as they deemed necessary. The U.S. attorney for California, McGregor Scott, last Wednesday announced that the feds would spend $2.5 million to go after illegal growers in the state.
Joined by state officials at a press conference announcing the program, Scott said:
The reality of the situation is there is so much black market marijuana in California that we could use all of our resources going after just the black market and never get there. So for right now, our priorities are to focus on what have been historically our federal law enforcement priorities: interstate trafficking, organized crime and the federal public lands.
In the state of Washington, federal agents have arrested one person and seized thousands of marijuana plants they say are part of an international black market in marijuana that is being financed by funds flowing in from China. U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes told reporters that three people have been charged with conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana.
A similar operation in Northern California netted about 100 houses purchased with money sent from a crime organization based in China.
Colorado Department of Revenue executive director Mike Hartman told NBC News that criminal organizations target states where recreational use is legal:
[They] attempt to shroud their operations in our legal environment here and then take the marijuana outside of the state.
What this means in practice for legal marijuana growers is that the U.S. Department of Justice is enforcing the regulations adopted by the states where recreational marijuana use is legal. That may not have been Sessions’ goal.