Photo by Mariah Miranda

Possible Federal Crackdown on Marijuana Has the Industry Fighting Back

Nevada’s marijuana users and supporters have been on high ground since the state legalized recreational use during the November 2016 election. That may change, however.

They’ve been on edge since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a January 4 memo that the federal government would be cracking down on pot use, even in states where medical or recreational marijuana use has been legalized.

The Cole Memorandum from 2013 instructed federal prosecutors to allow states and local law enforcement entities to handle the enforcement of federal marijuana regulations. Though Sessions has said he will be rescinding the Obama-era memo, it isn’t clear if there will be replacement instructions to prosecutors.

But local groups don’t plan to sit around and not put up a fight.

The Las Vegas chapter of NORML, a nonprofit whose aim is “to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of responsible marijuana use for adults,” has been working hard since Sessions announced his desire for a crackdown, spokesman Chris Thompson says.

The organization has met with Congresswoman Dina Titus, who Thompson says has been a big supporter of marijuana legalization. They also held a protest outside the Apothecary Shoppe, a marijuana dispensary near the Las Vegas Strip. Thompson says at least 15 to 20 people attended the protest with less than two hours’ notice.

Conference in September | Photo by Mariah Miranda

NORML’s monthly meeting last took place on January 24 and updated attendees on progressive legislation, such as the Marijuana Justice Act, Thompson says.

This bill would legalize marijuana on a federal level, and even offer states financial incentives to pursue this path, according to Introduced in Congress on August 1, 2017, the Act is in the first stage of the legislative process, meaning it would need to be considered by a committee before being sent to the Senate or the House of Representatives as a whole.

This time around, in response to prevailing concerns, NORML’s meeting offered several resources for information—but also suggestions for action. It included a “Know Your Rights” panel, which educated guests on their legal rights if law enforcement were to crack down on marijuana use. Also available for attendees was information on 2018 candidates for political office in the state and, for those most passionate, a letter-writing campaign to Nevada’s new interim U.S. attorney, Dayle Elieson.

Photo by Taypac Photography

Sessions appointed Elieson on January 5, and she has yet to release an official stance on marijuana. Meanwhile, Governor Brian Sandoval said in a early January statement that he’ll be reviewing the state’s options.

Since Nevada voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016, I have called for a well-regulated, restricted and respected industry,” he said. “My administration has worked to ensure these priorities are met while implementing the will of the voters and remaining within the guidelines of both the Cole and Wilkinson federal memos. We have been largely successful in these efforts. I believe Nevada’s marijuana industry is a model for other states.”

Sandoval’s statement also said that he “looks forward to receiving further guidance from the Department of Justice.”

Thompson says he thinks the chances of a crackdown coming to fruition are low.

“This is probably just a political move by Sessions,” he says. “It’s more likely that there will be such a big outcry that Congress would be emboldened to do something, to give protections for states.”

Stay tuned.