US Attorney in Massachusetts Will Let Legal Market Proceed

Even within his own Justice Department, the bumbling effort from the US attorney general appears to have fallen flat.

On Tuesday, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts–the newest state to launch a controlled retail cannabis market, though shops have yet to start –indicated that he plans to let the state’s legalization rollout move forward.

“I will not effectively immunize the residents of this Commonwealth from national marijuana enforcement,” US Attorney Andrew Lelling, a Trump appointee, said in a statement. “My office’s resources, however, are primarily focused on combatting the opioid epidemic that claims thousands of lives in the Commonwealth each year. ”

Pointing to other states that have legalized cannabis for adult use, Lelling said that he expects focusing his cannabis enforcement efforts on a few specific areas. These include overproduction, which Lelling said “generates the danger of illegal, and rewarding, marijuana sales to users in neighboring states where recreational marijuana use remains illegal,” and targeted sales to minors. Also a goal: organized crime and interstate trafficking of drug proceeds.

In his announcement, Lelling made it very clear he can’t guarantee that federal prosecutors or law enforcement representatives won’t ever take action against state-legal cannabis. However, by prioritizing overproduction, diversion, and underage sales–that are prohibited not only at the national level, but also under state law–Lelling’s office may in fact be doing the legal industry a favor, going after bad actors who may tarnish Massachusetts’s nascent legal market.

As Boston Globe cannabis reporter Dan Adams noted, the enforcement priorities also echo those identified from the Cole Court , the Obama-era DOJ policy which Sessions rescinded in early January, in the height of the attorney general’s campaign against state-legal cannabis.

Lelling issued a less committal statement in the immediate wake of Sessions’ undoing of the Cole memo. At the time, said he was not able to supply any assurances to participants in the state-legal marijuana trade, calling the issue “a straightforward rule of law issue. ”

“Congress has unambiguously made it a federal crime to cultivate, distribute and/or possess marijuana,” Lelling said in the Jan. 8 announcement. “As a law enforcement officer in the Executive Branch, it is my sworn duty to enforce this law. ”

From the end of January, however, Lelling appeared to acknowledge his office’s limited resources could be put to better use going after illicit opioids as opposed to state-regulated, voter-approved cannabis. ”

“Twenty-one hundred people in Massachusetts were killed by opioid overdoses this past year, not marijuana overdoses,” he continued, “so that’s where my sources are going at this time. ”

Yesterday’s announcement appeared to confirm, in writing, the policy which serves the people of Massachusetts without directly pushing back against Sessions–his bossin Washington DC.

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