On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent shock waves through the cannabis community when he rescinded an Obama-era policy known as the Cole Memo, which instructed federal prosecutors to limit the type of prosecutions they pursue in states where cannabis is legal. This came as no surprise to those who are aware of Sessions’ history of inflammatory remarks.
“It is important to understand that while possession of marijuana is prohibited under federal law, the Sessions memo does not really implicate cannabis users as U.S. Attorneys don’t routinely focus on users in prosecutions.”
However, when the interim United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, Adam Braverman, released a written statement stating, “The Department of Justice is committed to reducing violent crime and enforcing the laws as enacted by Congress. The cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana has long been and remains a violation of federal law. We will continue to utilize long-established prosecutorial priorities . . . ” many people in the local cannabis industry felt alarmed.
Some law enforcement officials indicated that they do not expect much to change in their approach to enforcement. Black market dealers will still be the focus of investigations, not legally licensed businesses. Still, there has been a great deal of panic since these statements were released. Rather than bow to paranoia, CULTURE reached out to current public defender and candidate for District Attorney (DA) of San Diego County, Geneviéve Jones-Wright, for help in explaining how these statements will affect San Diegans.
Jones-Wright told CULTURE that Sessions’ memo is troubling and shows a lack of understanding. Jones-Wright provided further insight by describing the situation from her perspective. “Unfortunately, either as a signal of what is ahead for San Diegans or another example of the interim DA’s tone deafness on criminal justice issues, my opponent [Summer Stephan] met with Adam Braverman on Jan. 4, 2018 to discuss collaboration between the District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s office. [Stephan] then publicly stated that she was ‘looking forward to collaborate [sic] with San Diego’s new U.S. Attorney [Braverman].’ This was the very day Sessions wrote the memo and Braverman said he stood with Sessions on the issue.”
This information is unsettling to activists and consumers alike, yet locally-licensed cannabis retailers are reporting business as usual. Homebound patients who rely on medical cannabis feel less confident that there will be enough delivery services to meet their needs. “It is important to understand that while possession of marijuana is prohibited under federal law, the Sessions memo does not really implicate cannabis users as U.S. Attorneys don’t routinely focus on users in prosecutions,” Jones-Wright added.
Jones-Wright explained that the DA does not prosecute federal crimes, and is not obligated to assist federal agencies in the prosecution of crimes that do not implicate state or local laws. Because enforcement of federal law is not under the purview of the DA’s office, the DA can help protect the cannabis community from Braverman and the Attorney General simply by honoring the people they were elected to represent.
“There could very well be consequences if these federal prosecutors decide to go after businesses legally operating under state law,” she continued. “One consequence could be a negative effect on the relationship with local law enforcement agencies. This is why we need leaders at the local level (police chiefs, sheriffs, District Attorneys) who will stand with the people and not bow to the feds when state and federal laws are in conflict.”