(BIVN) – The United States Department of Justice has Hawaii’s medical cannabis industry on edge.
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on federal marijuana enforcement policy, rescinding the Obama-era guidance of non-interference. The new memo directs all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which prohibits the cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” said Attorney General Sessions. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”
State lawmakers have been concerned about Sessions’ approach to marijuana from the moment he was appointed by President Donald Trump.
“We don’t want whatever it is that we do pass (in the upcoming legislative session) to be shut down by Jeff Sessions”, said Hawaii State Representative Joy San Buenaventura at a recent medical cannabis expo in Hilo. “I hate to say it. Its the federal administration.”
“I frequently advise people to stay on the black market when it comes the medical marijuana,” State Senator Russell Ruderman said during the same forum. “If I wanted to experiment with a co-op of community grow, I would keep it under the radar. I think its safer that way. I’m shocked to have to say this, but its true.”
Immediately following the Attorney General’s January 4 memo, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard issued a statement denouncing what she called Sessions’ escalation of the failed war on drugs.
“This overreach by the federal government undermines state governments like Hawaii’s that have legalized medical marijuana and threatens the livelihoods and rights of the people of Hawai‘i and those of the 29 states and Washington DC who have legalized some form of marijuana,” Rep. Gabbard stated. “This decision reinforces our outdated and destructive policies on marijuana that turn everyday Americans into criminals, tear families apart, and waste billions of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for nonviolent marijuana charges. Taxpayer dollars would be better spent tackling the many problems that plague the American people including combating the opioid epidemic, ensuring affordable housing, repairing aging infrastructure, and investing in education, healthcare, veterans’ care, and more.”
“By continuing to pour billions of dollars down the drain with our archaic marijuana policies, we stifle our economy, society, and criminal justice system and leave the people of Hawai‘i and millions more devastated – all for a substance that is far less dangerous and harmful than alcohol. Our laws should accurately reflect scientific consensus – not misplaced stigma and outdated myths about marijuana,” Gabbard added.
Gabbard again called on Congress to pass her bi-partisan Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (HR 1227), which removes marijuana from the federal controlled substances list.
“I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would decriminalize marijuana by removing it from the federal controlled substances list, treating it the same as alcohol and tobacco. Our bipartisan legislation will end this unnecessary and costly debate once and for all by federally decriminalizing marijuana and kick-starting long overdue, common sense criminal justice reform,” Gabbard said.
Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth says the responsibility to carry out Sessions’ directive does not rest with his office.
“That’s not me,” Roth told residents at a Saturday meeting in Pahoa. “That’s the federal prosecutors that decide. And the reason its the federal prosecutors deciding is because the federal prosecutors have control over the federal enforcement officers: the DEA, the FBI, and all those guys.”