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Officials who opposed pot law now defend it

  • Gov. Charlie Baker said he would like to see U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling focus “on the elements that are killing many people every day here in the commonwealth, which is fentanyl.” shns photo



State House News Service
Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Three constitutional officers who each opposed marijuana legalization are now defending the newly-legal pot industry and pushing back against U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, whose statements have sewn anxiety and uncertainty in the fledgling industry.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg have all publicly backed the Cannabis Control Commission and its work to stand up a regulated marijuana industry, even as that industry became far more vulnerable to federal prosecution.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week revoked an Obama era policy of looking the other way in states that had legalized uses of marijuana, and gave Lelling discretion over enforcing federal marijuana laws in the Bay State, where voters in 2016 legalized marijuana for adult recreational use.

Since Sessions’ announcement last Thursday, Lelling has issued two statements addressing how his office will proceed with federal marijuana law enforcement in light of the new guidance from Sessions. Though lawmakers and activists have bristled at the vagueness of Lelling’s statements, the prosecutor has made clear that no aspect of the state-sanctioned marijuana industry will be clear of federal scrutiny.

“I cannot ... provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution,” Lelling said in a statement Monday. He continued, “Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do.”

A 16-year veteran of the Justice Department who took over as U.S. attorney late last month, Lelling said this is “a straightforward rule of law issue” and said he will proceed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a case is worthy of expending “limited federal resources” to pursue.

The governor had a message Tuesday morning for Lelling about enforcement of federal marijuana law: Pot is not the biggest problem and drugs like fentanyl deserve more attention from the feds.

“What I would stress to him is the big public health crisis we’re dealing with in the commonwealth these days is opioid addiction and street drugs like fentanyl,” Baker said. “He mentioned in his remarks that he has limited resources. I would like to see his limited resources focus on the elements that are killing many people every day here in the commonwealth, which is fentanyl and that’s going to be my message to him.”

The governor’s comments came after he helped cut the ribbon on a new program started by the Kraft Center for Community Health and Massachusetts General Hospital that will send a van into the community to help treat addicts in their neighborhoods and connect them with recovery services.

“Let’s focus on the stuff that right now is wreaking havoc across our commonwealth and recognize and understand that the voters of Massachusetts voted to create a legal, regulated, recreational marijuana market here in the commonwealth,” Baker said.

Healey, who was also at the City Hall Plaza event, told the News Service she was also hoping to get more clarity from the U.S. attorney’s office about how it intends to enforce federal marijuana law in Massachusetts.

“What we’ve encouraged is greater clarification for the benefit of our businesses, our municipalities and our residents,” said Healey, who has reached out to Lelling’s office, but has not yet spoken with the U.S. attorney.