April 26, 2017: 3:42 PM CT
The NDAA outlines a position on pot policy, and it’s not good news for cannabis advocates.
The National District Attorney’s Association (NDAA), which created a policy group in January to advise the Trump administration on marijuana decisions, is taking a highly oppositional stance to legalization and urging the Justice Department to enforce federal prohibition laws in states that have legalized the drug.
According to the group’s white paper, which was released on April 20 (of all days):
“Federal drug enforcement policy regarding the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana should be applied consistently across the nation to maintain respect for the rule of law. The manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana are illegal under federal law, and marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). As a Schedule I drug, federal authorities have found that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and lacks safety for use under medical supervision.
“Despite these clear laws, beginning in 2009, the Department of Justice (DOJ) decided not to enforce federal laws regarding marijuana in some circumstances. Partly as a result of the DOJ’s decision not to enforce federal laws, it is now permissible under some state laws to possess marijuana for purported medicinal reasons, and a handful of states permit possession of marijuana for recreational use.
“While the DOJ has recently chosen not to enforce federal laws prohibiting the manufacture, importation, possession, use manufacture, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana, those laws remain in effect. The DOJ could change its enforcement policy at any time. To maintain respect for the rule of law, it is essential that federal drug enforcement policy regarding the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana be applied consistently across the nation.”
The paper goes on to highlight a number of negative consequences potentially attributed to the spread of state-level marijuana legalization, including higher impaired driving rates and greater youth cannabis access. Many studies refute those conclusions. The NDAA paper also calls for more research into possible consequences of state-level marijuana legalization.
The white paper doesn’t necessarily mean an impending federal crackdown on state cannabis laws, and it’s unclear how much legal power or influence the NDAA will have over national cannabis policy going forward.
“But the overriding fear from the group’s first official letter still resonates, and the fact that this policy group of prosecutors has [Jeff] Sessions’ back in any upcoming legal issues about cannabis legalization is cause for pause.. and reflection.. and maybe some proactive action,” writes David Hodes, acting managing editor of Cannabis Business Executive Press.
Attorney General and vehement marijuana opponent Jeff Sessions is tasked with reviewing the NDAA’s policy recommendations. Sessions has spoken out strongly against marijuana reform efforts in the past, but he hasn’t confirmed any specific plans for state-level enforcement under the new administration.
The Obama administration took a largely hands-off approach to state marijuana enforcement, allowing medical and recreational industries to grow across the country. To date, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 29 states have legalized medical cannabis programs. More states are pushing to reform their own marijuana laws in 2017 and 2018. The drug remains illegal for all purposes at the federal level, however, and it doesn’t look like that’s likely to change with Sessions at the helm of the Justice Department.