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U.S. Attorney Refuses to Guarantee Massachusetts Cannabis Industry Safety from Prosecution

Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind the Cole Memo has left canna-legal states with “a great deal of uncertainty,” including Massachusetts, which aims to launch its recreational weed industry in July.

by Chris Moore

Massachusetts' top federal prosecutor has announced that he would not guarantee that the state's cannabis industry will be safe from federal prosecution, leaving lawmakers and cannabis activists worried about the future. Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind the Cole Memo, which protected canna-legal states from federal prosecution, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling released a statement warning that his office "will aggressively investigate and prosecute bulk cultivation and trafficking cases, and those who use the federal banking system illegally," MassLive reports. The statement, however, did not clarify whether or not his office would prosecute state-legal recreational cannabis businesses.

Nervous about the future of the industry, cannabis advocates asked Lelling for further clarification on the issue. In a second statement, Lelling said that he "cannot … provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution." Lelling said that he is sworn to uphold federal prohibition laws, and hence will "proceed on a case-by-case basis" regarding cannabis prosecution. "The kind of categorical relief sought by those engaged in state-level marijuana legalization efforts can only come from the legislative process," the statement concludes.

Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler told MassLive that Sessions' dismantling of the Cole Memo has caused "a great deal of uncertainty" for the state's cannabis industry. "If you're a person looking to come into Massachusetts and to open up a cannabis business, I'm not sure what type of message that sends, what type of security that gives you, or lack of security, I should say," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said. "I don't think any business would ever want to open its door and have fears on the first day that the FBI is going to be standing on their doorsteps," Jim Borghesani of the Marijuana Policy Project said to the Associated Press.

Regardless of these concerns, the state's Cannabis Control Commission is still on track to approve the first cannabis retail shops to open this July. Governor Charlie Baker called Sessions' choice to revoke the Cole Memo the "wrong decision," and released a statement this Monday saying that he would continue to support the CCC and ensure that adequate funding would be provided.

According to the Boston Herald, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said that although Sessions' decision "inexplicably directs federal law enforcement resources away from combating an opioid epidemic that is ravaging our communities in order to focus on legalized marijuana," her office is committed to supporting the state's cannabis laws nonetheless.


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Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.



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