WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Justice Department rescinded an Obama administration policy that had eased enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that legalized the drug, instead giving federal prosecutors wide latitude to pursue criminal charges.
The action by Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have damaging consequences for the booming marijuana industry in the six states including California and Colorado that have legalized the drug for recreational use, plus dozens of others that permit medicinal use.
Justice Department officials declined to say whether they might take legal action against those states, saying further steps were “still under consideration.”
Federal law still prohibits marijuana even as some states move to legalize it. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Trump’s top priority was enforcing federal law “whether it’s marijuana or immigration.”
The policy change, detailed by Sessions in a one-page memo to federal prosecutors nationwide, came three days after California formally launched the world’s largest regulated commercial market for recreational marijuana.
The Obama-era policy recognized marijuana as a “dangerous drug”, but said the Justice Department expected states and localities that authorized various uses to effectively regulate and police it.
Marijuana startup companies said they were now bracing for a deceleration in funding.