The freedom to use marijuana could change after the Justice Department rescinded Obama administration policies that gave a hands-off approach to federal marijuana enforcement in states where the citizens have voted to legalize it or pass laws making medical use legal.
In a memo outlining the change on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions characterized the dramatic policy shift as a "return to the rule of law." The move sowed new unpredictability into an industry that has flourished largely because federal prosecutors have maintained this hands-off approach.
While recreational marijuana is not legal in Georgia, state Rep. Allen Peake fought hard to legalize cannabis oil for patients suffering from a slim list of ailments. Even though that law passed, it did not allow for the growth of marijuana or the manufacturing of the oil. Some lawmakers have been working to expand these laws.
Peake said on Thursday that this move will hurt chances of getting more marijuana legislation passed.
"I’m sure it will have a chilling effect on any potential legislation. It’s outrageous that he would attempt to change the policy that’s been active in more than half our states. It would be a huge step backwards, and impact thousands of people, many of them children who suffer from debilitating illnesses. (Sessions) He is just flat wrong on this issue."
The Georgia Sheriff's Association took a different stance, applauding the move. Terry Norris said that while they do not know how the rescinding of the Obama era memo will affect the enforcement of the medical side of marijuana in Georgia, they do applaud this decision.
The Association supported and still supports the use of low THC marijuana for seizure disorders in children but they adamantly oppose the legalization of marijuana in Georgia for social and recreational purposes.
The National Sheriffs' Association mirrored these sentiments. In a press release, they called current enforcement of federal marijuana laws confusing.
"We applaud the Attorney General for this action today that brings clarity on enforcement of the law by rescinding a confusing policy brought on by the previous administration that hindered law enforcement. This will allow sheriffs to carry out their mission of upholding the rule of law and keeping their communities safe.”
USA TODAY reported that later Thursday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump supported the action.
"The president strongly believes that we should enforce federal law" which recognizes marijuana as illegal, Sanders said.
However, the comment stands in contrast to what Trump said on the campaign trail: that marijuana legalization was an issue that should be left up to the states.
In 2016, President Trump told 9News Reporter Brandon Rittiman that he thinks the states should "absolutely" have authority over the sales of marijuana.
He said he wouldn't use federal authority to shut down sales of recreational marijuana in states like Colorado.
"I think it's up to the states, yeah. I'm a states person, I think it should be up to the states, absolutely," Trump said.
The announcement comes the same week California launched recreational marijuana sales for adults. Every state that’s approved recreational pot sales like Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, and Massachusetts have done so through voter approval at the ballot box, showing strong public approval for legal pot.
In Georgia cities, marijuana has been decriminalized. In both Atlanta and Clarkston, people found with less than an ounce of marijuana will get a ticket and face a light fine. It's an offense treated similarly to jaywalking.
USA TODAY's Kevin Johnson and Trevor Hughes contributed to this report.
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