Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not like marijuana.
He has called regular marijuana use "only slightly less awful" than heroin dependence. He once made a joking comment
about not minding the KKK until he found out they smoked marijuana. And as a senator, he was one of the most avowed opponents of legalization.
A few months with Sessions as the nation's top cop have left pot supporters wondering how far he'll go to roll back Justice Department policy allowing states to set their own pot rules.
Where things stand
As deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein put it this week, there is a "conflict" between federal and state views on marijuana. A drug offender in the eyes of the federal government is just a recreational pot-smoker in the eyes of a hefty handful of US states and DC, where Sessions goes to work each day.
Nevertheless, he has yet to crack the whip on states and localities like DC that allow marijuana use in opposition to federal law.
"We're not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades," Sessions said at a March press conference.
In an April memo
, Sessions called for a Justice Department task force to review policies in a number of areas, including marijuana. He requested recommendations "no later than July 27."
Among those tasked with reviewing Obama-era DOJ policies is Steven Cook, a prosecutor who has taken a hard line on sentencing reform and liberalizing drug rules.
In May, Sessions produced
one of the first results of the task force review when he rescinded sentencing guidelines put in place under Attorney General Eric Holder's tenure. The Holder guidance asked for prosecutors to grant leeway to drug offenders, while Sessions is directing them to seek the most serious offense they can.
What Sessions decides to do on pot will come down to the department's review of another Holder-era rule: the Cole memo.
The 2013 memo
from then-deputy attorney general James Cole stated that while marijuana was still an illegal drug and the Justice Department would continue enforcement of federal law, it would defer to state governments that had developed strict regulatory regimes.
In 2014, the Justice Department issued another memo
saying banks could provide services to licensed marijuana businesses.
Asked about department policy in that March press conference, Sessions said, "The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama's Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid."
Congress and the DOJ
The Justice Department has yet to indicate what way the task force will go.
On Tuesday, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- a Republican from a recreational pot state -- asked Rosenstein: "Where are we headed with marijuana?"
Rosenstein gave a lengthy answer, saying the "conflict" between federal and state laws remained.
"Jim Cole tried to deal with it in that memorandum," Rosenstein said. "And at the moment, that memorandum is still in effect. I can't -- maybe there will be changes to it in the future, but we're still operating under that policy."
"Confusing," Murkowski responded once Rosenstein was through.
But even if Sessions decides the federal government should change course on state marijuana rules, Congress could set up roadblocks.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, introduced an amendment to the federal budget that passed in 2014, prohibiting the DOJ from using any money to block medical marijuana on the state level.
After Congress passed a budget leaving Rohrabacher's amendment intact, Trump signed the appropriations bill into law, but also tacked on a signing statement
that could indicate his willingness to part with Congress on the issue.
Read more at cnn.com