Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Andrew Harnik, Associated Press file)

AG Jeff Sessions directs task force to review federal marijuana policies

The task force will "undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing and marijuana to ensure consistency with the department's overall strategy on reducing violent crime"

In a memo sent this week to the U.S. attorneys, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said a task force within the Justice Department will evaluate marijuana policy as part of a larger review of crime reduction and public safety.

The Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety will “identify ways in which the federal government can more effectively combat illegal immigration and violent crime, such as gun crime, drug trafficking, and gang violence,” according to the memo issued Wednesday.

Sessions wrote that subcommittees of the larger task force will “undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing and marijuana to ensure consistency with the department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities.”

In the memo, Sessions indicated that he has asked for recommendations by July 27. He has also directed the task force to hold a “National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety” within the next 120 days.

Since taking on the role of Attorney General in January, Sessions has included marijuana in his speeches about cracking down on illegal drugs, saying, “experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think.”

He has also been reluctant to draw a distinction between medical and recreational marijuana, noting he is “dubious” of medical marijuana.

If the Justice Department is reviewing existing policies, that would presumably include the 2013 Cole memorandum.

Sessions has previously said that the Cole memorandum set up policies “about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid. … I may have some different ideas myself in addition to that.”

In an interview with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on March 9, Sessions reiterated that “marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws. So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide.”

He did temper that statement with the caveat that, “it’s not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that’s legalized it.”

Read the memo