Sessions will end policy that allowed legalized marijuana to prosper

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHillicon Valley: Trump cyber strategy lets US go on offense | AT&T urges court to let Time Warner merger stand | Conservatives want wife of DOJ official to testify | Facebook, nonprofits team up to fight fake news | DC camera hacker pleads guilty Vote Democrat in midterms to rein in Trump, preserve justice Sessions limits ability of judges to dismiss deportation cases MORE will roll back an Obama-era policy that gave states leeway to allow marijuana for recreational purposes.

The Justice Department on Thursday afternoon released a memo announcing that the so-called Cole memo — which ordered U.S. attorneys in states where marijuana has been legalized to deprioritize prosecution of marijuana-related cases — would be rescinded effective immediately. 

"Previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," the memo reads. 

Two sources with knowledge of the decision confirmed to The Hill early Thursday that Sessions planned on ending the policy authored in 2013 by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

The Associated Press first reported the decision.

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Sessions, a vocal critic of marijuana legalization, has hinted for months that he would move to crack down on the growing cannabis market.

Sessions, since taking over as head of the Justice Department, has appeared to show a harder line on marijuana. In May, the attorney general sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting they get rid of an amendment in the department’s budget that blocks the Justice Department from using federal money to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

Opponents of legal marijuana on Thursday celebrated the long-awaited action. 

“It’s pretty clear that the federal policy is going to be that U.S. attorneys will have discretion and the industry can no longer hide behind the Cole memo and say that they’re protected,” said Kevin Sabet, who worked in Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy and now runs the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “There is an unknown here because we don’t know how this is going to be implemented.”

The move is likely to put the federal government in conflict with states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. California on Monday became the sixth state to legalize recreational marijuana. Massachusetts and Maine are set to join those states later this year.

“It’s really the beginning of the story, not the end,” Sabet said.

Legalization has led to a booming marijuana business in some states, where wealthy growers and even hedge funds have invested millions of dollars in production and sales. Some industry analysts peg the North American cannabis market at $10 billion in annual sales.

Mallory Shelbourne contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:58 p.m.