DOJ Reverses its Marijuana Enforcement Policy

The Justice Department announced it is reversing an Obama-era policy on marijuana that had allowed the decision to regulate the drug to be left to the states.

The Justice Department announced yesterday that it is reversing an Obama-era department policy that allowed states to decide their own laws regarding use and sale of marijuana.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed all U.S. attorneys to “enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities.”

In 2013, the deputy Attorney General at that time, James Cole, said in a memo the Justice Department would not impede states with regards to enforcement of their own marijuana laws, provided they regulated the drug so as not to hinder federal enforcement priorities. This included prohibiting sales to minors, preventing diversion from a state where it’s legal to one where it isn’t, and enforcing driving while impaired.

Some in Congress are not happy about the decision, however. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) threatened to start holding up the confirmation process for DOJ nominees unless Sessions changed his position. Gardner represents one of the states where marijuana is now legal for recreational use. He said that Sessions had previously told him that if confirmed, he would not change the policy put in place under the Obama administration.

Impact on Federal Employees

For federal employees, the position from the Justice Department largely reinforces what state marijuana laws already mean for them. It is still illegal at the federal level, and employees of the federal government are prohibited from using it. author Ralph Smith wrote recently, “While some people do not see any harm in using marijuana, a federal employee using a controlled substance can lose a security clearance and lose a federal job.”

The Office of Personnel Management also reinforced this in 2015 when it issued a memo shortly after some states had legalized marijuana.

“Federal law on marijuana remains unchanged.  Marijuana is categorized as a controlled substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act.  Thus knowing or intentional marijuana possession is illegal, even if an individual has no intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana,” read a part of the OPM memo.

2017-01-04 Sessions Memo on Marijuana by FedSmith, Inc. on Scribd

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.