In an unexpected though unsurprising move yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy regarding marijuana prosecutions, a move that could have dramatic consequences for California immigrants and marijuana-based businesses. The so-called Cole Memo advised federal prosecutors to give states that legalized marijuana some leeway by focusing law enforcement resources away from activities that complied with state law. With this move, that guidance is now moot, leaving behind many questions as to how this change will affect recreational marijuana, which became legal in California this week.
It is unclear how the interim U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Nicola Hanna will enforce federal marijuana laws. In Colorado, another state that has legalized recreational marijuana, the interim U.S. Attorney has announced that he will not be changing his approach to enforcement. Hanna, whose jurisdiction will include most of Southern California, has not responded to inquiries about how his office will handle the change in policy.
What does all of this mean? No one is certain. What is certain is that the change in policy can cause serious problems for immigrants. It’s important for every non-citizen to understand that any federal crime involving marijuana, including simple possession, could lead to deportation. Even though possession and recreational use is legal in California, immigration advocates and attorneys suggest abstaining from marijuana and avoiding any actions that could be used against them in a federal immigration court.