Metro

Led by Warren, lawmakers urge Trump to overrule Sessions on pot

Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee member Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questions Jerome Powell, President Donald Trump's nominee for chairman of the Federal Reserve, during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press/File
Senator Elizabeth Warren in November 2017.

A bipartisan group of 54 members of Congress led by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Colorado Representative Jared Polis is demanding that President Trump restore the federal government’s previous hands-off approach to marijuana.

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, shook the foundation of the blossoming cannabis industry earlier this month when he rescinded Obama-era policies that had discouraged federal prosecutions of marijuana operations that are legal at the state level. Now, US prosecutors have broad discretion to enforce the longstanding federal prohibition on pot — including against regulated dispensaries and cultivation operations in states where the drug is legal.

The group organized by Warren and Polis sent Trump a letter Wednesday slamming the move by Sessions, which they said “upends the careful balance struck between the federal and state governments on marijuana enforcement.”

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Voter-approved state laws allowing for medical or recreational use of marijuana, the lawmakers wrote, “have been carefully reviewed and thoughtfully implemented in communities across the country. The intent of the these laws has been simple: follow the will of the voters and provide common sense, responsible regulations for marijuana that balance public health and safety needs with limited criminal justice resources.”

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Other members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation signed the letter to Trump, including Senator Edward J. Markey and Representatives Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, Niki Tsongas, and Michael E. Capuano.

The letter goes on to say that the uncertainty caused by the threatened crackdown will have a “chilling” effect on states’ efforts to eliminate the illicit pot market. It also notes that Trump during his campaign said marijuana policy should be “up to the states.”

The new Department of Justice policy has drawn backlash from both Democrats and Republicans. On the left, supporters of legalization say the country must end a “war on drugs” that has swept disproportionate numbers of racial minorities into prison over minor offenses; on the right, legalization draws support from those who believe states, not the federal government, have the right to control cannabis. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support ending federal marijuana prohibition.

Since the announcement by Sessions, numerous members of Congress have introduced or co-sponsored bills that would remove cannabis from the federal government’s list of the most dangerous drugs or allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit.

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Warren declined to explicitly endorse Question 4, the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in Massachusetts, but said before the vote she was “open” to regulated sales. Since Trump’s election, she has increasingly embraced the issue, pushing the administration to make it easier for banks to do business with dispensaries and to explore whether cannabis could mitigate the opioid crisis.

Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.