By Bob Katzen

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a reversal of the Cole Memorandum, written in 2013 by the Obama Administration’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole. The memo provided non-interference guidance to federal prosecutors instructing them to take a laissez-faire stance and not interfere with the laws in states that have legalized the medical or recreational use 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,” Sessions said in a statement. “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.”

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling is the federal official who will make the decisions in Massachusetts on whether to enforce the federal law prohibiting the use of marijuana.

In a written statement, Lelling said his office will pursue federal marijuana crimes but will focus on bulk drug traffickers and criminal gangs rather than on retail pot stores and individual buyers.

“This office will pursue federal marijuana crimes as part of its overall approach to reducing violent crime, stemming the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantling criminal gangs, and in particular the threat posed by bulk trafficking of marijuana, which has had a devastating impact on local communities,” Lelling said in his statement. “As with all of our decisions, we will continue to use our prosecutorial discretion and work with our law enforcement partners to determine resource availability, weigh the seriousness of the crime and determine the impact on the community.”

Gov. Baker opposed the legalization of pot but disagrees with Sessions. “The Baker-Polito Administration fully supports the will of the voters and the Cannabis Control Commission’s mission,” said Baker spokesman Brendan Moss. “The administration believes this is the wrong decision and will review any potential impacts from any policy changes by the local U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

“It is distressing to see Jeff Sessions making such a regressive move at a time when more and more states — and countries such as Canada — are replacing failed cannabis prohibition policies with smart, regulated approaches,” said Jim Borghesani, Director of Communications for ‘Yes on 4, the successful campaign to legalize marijuana. ”

In a press release, the state’s Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission which regulates the legalization of marijuana stated, “Our priority has always been to protect public safety and develop regulations that are compliant with all laws including those passed by the voters and the Legislature legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in the commonwealth. As far as the mandate and the work of the Cannabis Control Commission is concerned, nothing has changed. We will continue to move forward with our process to establish and implement sensible regulations for this emerging industry in Massachusetts.”

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