ACLU Statement on DOJ Decision to Shift Federal Government’s Role in State Marijuana Laws

WASHINGTON January 4, 2018 – The Department of Justice is expected to reverse an Obama-era policy today that discouraged federal prosecutors from bringing charges against marijuana users in states where marijuana is legal. This decision would directly impact residents of the six states and the District of Columbia who have already legalized marijuana use, and should the change also affect medical marijuana regulations, could impact other states. It also represents a reversal on the administration’s past viewpoint that marijuana legalization was an issue best left to the states.

Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union, had this reaction:

“Criminalizing marijuana may be a priority for Attorney General Sessions—who has spent decades using bad science to push his own regressive agenda—but it is not a priority for the American people, 52 percent of whom support legalization. Rescinding this guidance is yet another example of how this administration’s ‘law and order’ philosophy is deeply out of touch with most Americans. With today’s decision, the Department of Justice is essentially telling at least six states and the District of Columbia that they are not entitled to govern as they see fit when it comes to drug policy. For politicians who purport to believe in ‘small government’ and states’ rights, this is a wildly incongruous move.

“It also cannot go unnoted that this policy will have a disproportionate and disastrous impact on people of color. Black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates, but as the ACLU reported in 2013, Black people are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. The War on Marijuana, like the War on Drugs, has failed by almost every measure—with the exception of successfully destroying communities of color. Marijuana criminalization negatively impacts public housing and student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody decisions, and immigration status. Today’s decision furthers entrenches the country in racially biased, fiscally irresponsible, and morally wrong drug policy—and the ACLU will continue to fight it.”