Northwest Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has condemned U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions over a shift in policy which could signal a new federal crackdown on medical and recreational marijuana, even in states which have legalized its use.
While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, federal drug policy since 2013 — outlined in the so-called “Cole Memorandum” — has effectively been to defer to state laws and to not pursue prosecutions for the production, sale, or use of marijuana in states where the drug is legal. The medical use of marijuana is legal in 29 states, while recreational use is legal in 8 states and has been decriminalized in 14 others. Sessions’ new policy, which he recalled a “return to the rule of law,” reopens the door for prosecutors to pursue federal marijuana charges in those states.
“This disappointing and cruel decision is a huge step backward for states’ rights, for common-sense reform, and for the American people,” Rep. Matt Gaetz said in a statement.
Gaetz has long advocated for medical marijuana reform, both during his time in the Florida House and since joining Congress last year. Last April, Gaetz introducted legislation that would remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of Schedule I controlled substances, a list which also includes more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin.
“I have seen children, in my district and nationwide, who have been helped by medical marijuana when all other treatments have failed,” Gaetz said.
Sessions has previously said that marijuana is comparable to or “only slightly less awful” than drugs like heroin, a claim that’s unsupported by science and has been roundly dismissed by experts.
“Not only does Attorney General Sessions’ decision hurt millions of patients and families nationwide, it is out of step with the will of the American people, over 90% of whom support doctor-prescribed medical marijuana,” Gaetz added. “It even flies in the face of President Trump, who expressed his support for medical marijuana and state-level decision-making during his campaign. For Attorney General Sessions to disregard the Cole Memorandum is heartless and cold, and shows his desire to pursue an antiquated, disproven dogma instead of the will of the American people. He should focus his energies on prosecuting criminals, not patients,”
A Gallup poll conducted last October found that some 64 percent of Americans now support the legalization of marijuana. In Florida, 71 percent voters approved a 2016 constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana for patients with certain debilitating conditions. Gaetz appeared at the grand opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in Pensacola last month.