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Vermont moves to legalize pot as feds signal possible crackdown

(CNN)On the same day the Justice Department signaled a possible federal crackdown on marijuana use, lawmakers in Vermont passed a bill that would legalize the drug for recreational purposes.

The state House voted 81-63 on Thursday to pass a bill legalizing possession of a small amount of marijuana, according to legislative records and House Clerk William MaGill.
“Substance use should be treated as a health care matter, not as a crime,” said Rep. Brian Cina of the state’s Progressive Party, records show. “By passing judgment on others for the way that they deal with pain or seek pleasure, one further fuels the stigma that drives addiction.”
    The bill next heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass, and Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has said he will sign it, according to CNN affiliate WCAX.
    The bill is similar to one Scott vetoed last year but includes stricter penalties for stoned drivers and for those who provide pot to children.

    Federal policy in flux

    Lawmakers’ approval came the same day Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded three memos from the Obama administration that had set up a hands-off policy toward marijuana-friendly states.
    Although several states have legalized possession, cultivation and distribution of pot in recent years, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Sessions’ move indicates the end of the laissez-faire attitude of recent years and gives prosecutors more leeway in deciding whether to commit resources to stopping marijuana use, even in states that have legalized the drug.
    In Vermont, state Sen. Dick Sears, a Democrat, said he wasn’t sure what the new federal guidance would mean locally.
    “I’m not sure how much it will affect us. It might affect our medical marijuana, which would be a bigger concern because that is where the state is regulating and the state is allowing the sale of it,” Sears told WCAX.
    In the US, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

    Vermont and marijuana

    Vermont, the “Green Mountain State,” could soon become the first state to legalize marijuana by passing a law in the legislature rather than by use of a ballot measure.
    Long one of the most liberal states in the country, Vermont legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2004 and recently decriminalized possession of a small amount.
    This is Vermont’s second attempt at passing a marijuana bill in the past year. State lawmakers last spring passed a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
    But Scott vetoed the bill, saying it did not adequately protect public safety. He said he was generally a “libertarian” on the issue but asked for more protections against stoned driving and children’s access to marijuana.
    “I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction,” he said at the time. “However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.”
    Scott also said he wanted any such bill to include an “impairment testing mechanism” that police could use to determine whether a driver is stoned. However, there is no marijuana Breathalyzer-style product on the market.
    Scott set up a Marijuana Advisory Commission to study the matter. Its report is expected later this month.

    Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

    Marissa SafontVermont moves to legalize pot as feds signal possible crackdown
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    States unhappy with rollback of hands-off federal guidelines on pot laws

    (CNN)Several states that allow marijuana use reacted with frustration to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescinding of Obama-era guidelines that established a hands-off approach to their marijuana-friendly laws.

    While a number of states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana use, it is still illegal under federal law. Among the Justice Department memos, the “Cole memo” in 2013 released a directive to federal prosecutors, adopting the non-interference policy.
    Federal prosecutors nationwide now will decide how to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where its use is legal.
      Here is how some state officials reacted:

      California

      “Today, Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration destructively doubled down on the failed, costly and racially discriminatory policy of marijuana criminalization, trampling on the will” of voters, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
      This week, California became the eighth state — along with the District of Columbia — to allow recreational sales of marijuana after voters approved the measure in 2016. Another 22 states allow only medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.
      Newsom said Sessions’ move “flies in the face of overwhelming public opinion of a vast majority of Americans, who support marijuana legalization.”
      “I call on our federal leaders to move quickly to protect states’ rights from the harmful effects of this ideological temper tantrum by Jeff Sessions,” said Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco.

      Colorado

      Colorado officials were surprised by the announcement, state Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman said.
      “I will say that there was no warning about this guidance. We had no idea it was coming, and like you, we woke up this morning to the news that there was new direction from Attorney General Sessions,” Coffman said.
      “It is unfortunate that the people who are on the ground working with marijuana enforcement issues every day … were not consulted before this guidance was issued, because I think we definitely could have shed some light on that,” Coffman said.
      She said there is a lot state officials still don’t know the Justice Department’s enforcement priorities and how it plans to implement the new memo.
      But Coffman said she doesn’t foresee a major shift in Colorado in the current marijuana enforcement and regulation.
      “We will continue as a state to exert our right as a sovereign state to control what happens in our borders with regard to marijuana regulation and enforcement,” she said.
      In 2012, voters in Colorado passed a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
      Colorado’s US Attorney Bob Troyer said Sessions “directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions.”
      Troyer said his office “has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions.”

      Oregon

      Gov. Kate Brown said some 19,000 jobs had been created by the marijuana market.
      “Reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will roll back federal marijuana policy are deeply concerning and disruptive to our state’s economy,” she said.
      Oregon voted in 2014 to legalize personal possession, manufacture and sale of marijuana for people 21 years of age and older.
      Brown said “the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.”
      Brown said her staff and state agencies “will fight to continue Oregon’s commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market.”
      Oregon’s US Attorney Billy J. Williams said his office will work with state and local officials on several areas, including “stemming the overproduction of marijuana … dismantling criminal organizations and thwarting violent crime in our communities.”

      Washington state

      Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that he was “especially frustrated” by reports the “Cole memo” would be rescinded. Inslee called it “the wrong direction for our state.”
      “It is also disrespects Washington voters who have chosen a different path for our state,” he said.
      Washington voters passed a law in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21. The first dispensaries started opening in 2014.
      State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was “disappointed and troubled” by the news.
      “Over the past year, Sessions has demonstrated a stunning lack of knowledge about our state’s marijuana laws,” Ferguson said.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

      Marissa SafontStates unhappy with rollback of hands-off federal guidelines on pot laws
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