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Top federal prosecutor in Mass. says his drug unit focuses mostly on opioids, not marijuana cases

US Attorney Andrew Lelling met with the Globe Editorial Board on Feb. 11.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The top federal prosecutor for Massachusetts said this month that the opening of adult-use marijuana stores across the state has not changed the type of marijuana enforcement his office does, but he confirmed that his drug unit is mostly focused on opioid cases, as he assured the public it would be last summer.

“Legalization on the state level has not prompted me to now start doing marijuana cases we otherwise would not have done,” US Attorney Andrew Lelling told the Globe’s editorial board earlier this month. “We keep doing the kind of enforcement that we’ve been doing all along. We keep an eye on the dispensaries to the extent that we can.”


Lelling’s statements to the editorial board largely echoed the statement he released in July, in which he wrote that he wouldn’t exempt marijuana businesses from federal prosecution, but he would target organized crime and sales to minors, among other actions also considered illegal under state regulations.

Meeting with the editorial board, Lelling said evidence that a marijuana dispensary is regularly selling substances to minors would be a top priority for his office to pursue.

“My personal view is that in the public debate on legalization, proponents for legalization were good at minimizing the well-documented health effects of marijuana on adolescent brain development. It’s a real problem,” he said.

“Having marijuana be legal from 21 and over will increase the availability of marijuana to underaged users every bit as much as having alcohol legal at 21 and over does the same thing.”

Lelling said his drug unit — made up of 15 assistant US attorneys — is largely focused on the opioid epidemic.

“I mean, 2,000 people died last year from opioid overdoses, not from smoking pot,” he said.

But the licensed marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts are still “technically illegal” on the federal level, Lelling said, so he can’t entirely “immunize the state from marijuana enforcement.”


Instead, he’s looking to strike an “uneasy detente” with them, only prosecuting them in specific cases.

“The marijuana enforcement we’re doing now is the same marijuana enforcement we were doing five years ago, right?” he said. “Meaning the types of targets that we’re most likely to go after has not changed in that time.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.