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Top US Prosecutor in Massachusetts Says Focus Is on Opioids, Not Marijuana

January 24, 2018
A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure at DEA Headquarters in Arlington, VA. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
BOSTON (AP) — The top federal prosecutor for Massachusetts said Wednesday that while he cannot guarantee that people involved in the state’s legalized cannabis industry would be immune from federal prosecution, his priority will be combatting the deadly opioid epidemic.

'2,100 people in Massachusetts were killed by opioid overdoses last year, not marijuana overdoses, so that is where my resources are going right now.'
Andrew Lelling, US attorney

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, who was sworn into office last month after being nominated by Republican President Donald Trump, said he believes marijuana is a dangerous drug and refused to rule out prosecuting those working in the voter-approved industry. But Lelling stressed that marijuana will not be his office’s focus.

“The number one enforcement priority for my office is the opioid crisis,” Lelling told reporters during a meeting in his Boston office. “Twenty-one hundred people in Massachusetts were killed by opioid overdoses last year, not marijuana overdoses, so that is where my resources are going right now,” Lelling said.

Marijuana industry officials in Massachusetts have tried to get clarity from Lelling since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved earlier this month to rescind an Obama-era Justice Department policy that, in general, called for non-interference with legal marijuana operations in states.

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Lelling said that federal prosecutors will decide whether to get involved in marijuana matters on a case-by-case basis, but noted that marijuana cases his office has historically pursued have involved the bulk importation of the drug from Canada or Mexico as well as allegations of money laundering.

The U.S. attorney also indicated that he would continue a hands-off approach when it comes to medical marijuana, pointing to a federal budget amendment that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed.

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Jim Borghesani, who was a spokesman for the successful campaign to legalize marijuana for recreational use, said they are hopeful that Lelling’s comments mean federal prosecutors won’t be targeting businesses that are “operating in full compliance will the law passed by voters.”

“We’re fully aware of the internal political dynamics he’s facing, and we trust he’s equally aware of the local desire for a safe and regulated cannabis market,” said Borghesani, a Massachusetts spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

The Cannabis Control Commission, a five-member panel created to regulate marijuana in Massachusetts, has pledged to move forward with a process that foresees the first commercial cannabis shops opening in July.

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Massachusetts Panel OKs Draft Cannabis Regulations

The commission has reached out to Lelling’s office, but Lelling said he will have to turn down an invitation to meet with its members because he’s prohibited from meeting with regulatory bodies.

“While I sympathize with the state and local (people) who want this kind of clarity … I simply can’t give it to them,” Lelling said.

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  • Franklin

    The truth is out of the bag. There is no DEA army, never has been. 95% of the failed drug enforcement is handled by local police. There is one DEA accountant there for every 19 local officers and deputies mostly. If it’s a bust using less than 20 agents, which is the vast majority they can just fax in there report. The assets seizure report. Feds get their cut. The DEA budget hasn’t changed much for years. It’s about 2 billion dollars a year and they employ 1000 prosecutors and they need forensic accountant to find more money. There is no brownshirt branch of the DEA. It is your local County Sheriffs Association member.

    The simple fix is already a bill waiting in most West Coast states and now Massachusetts that prevent state and local police or employees from cooperating or participating in anything that is against state law regardless of what the Feds try to do. Congress did not give Sessions anywhere close to the money he would need to start a bunch of raids. Unlike most of the people they arrest for marijuana these people will have legal representation.

    Under federal law there is no designation between medical marijuana and recreational. There is no legislation that outlines any difference. Therefore states can argue that all marijuana is medical, no different than an over that counter medicine. But this is a plant and a non toxic plant. Notice how most of the same states have already started steps to block their police from participating. This make federal enforcement impossible and congress has so far made it clear that they aren’t funding that. The R-backer rider is still in place and there is no reason to think it won’t be renewed next month. Dana said that he believe that would give congress enough time to bring the legislation up to do date on marijuana before the next federal budget showdown in September. Trump and even Sessions have much bigger issue to deal with and he doesn’t want a losing fight against 64% of those who support recreational and over 90% support medical marijuana.. This is an election year and no one is going against the will of the people that strong who will be around very long.

    Meanwhile Canada will legalize nationwide in July, about the same time the first shops will open in Massachusetts. Michigan is polling to win and they haven’t even made ballot yet but they will.. They learned from last time and that will pass with 58% of the vote which is very strong. Now that Vermont has show is can be done by legislature, Phil Murphy will at least get decrim going this session I believe. He might even sign that bill from last year and that would make Jersey probably open January 1st next year with another group of states. New York has a study going which means Cuomo is still working for the police state using the old “do a study” stall. New York wants is and when Boston has it they will want it even more. Eventually Maine will open shops. Most every state is at least discussing the reality of new revenue and nowhere else to raise taxes. Marijuana isn’t introducing anything new, it’s just offering regulated market so we wipe out the black market same was we did for intoxicating beverages.

    At this point those who are opposed have but one motive and that is wanting more people in jail. Either for profit or some sick perversion. Marijuana prohibition has always been about political discrimination. It’s a way to target groups, arrest their leaders, seize their funds to the don’t have a legal defense and soil their name in the media. We won’t forget how involved the media was in reporting the drug war and never questioning the actual facts. That was 40 years ago with Mike Wallace talking about wining a drug war in one generation.