Federal marijuana law decision could impact Massachusetts pot industry rollout

Cultivating, distributing or possessing marijuana is a federal crime

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

BOSTON (WWLP) — Recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, including Massachusetts. But people in the legal pot industry could be prosecuted under federal law following a decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Massachusetts voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016. But it’s still a federal crime to cultivate, distribute or possess marijuana.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week announced the repeal of an Obama-era policy that allowed prosecutors to loosen enforcement of pot laws in states with legal cannabis.

Marijuana reform activists worry the move could discourage people from entering the legal marijuana industry in Massachusetts.

“No applicant wants to, you know, have the specter of the FBI knocking on their door the day they open,” Marijuana Policy Project Spokesperson Jim Borghesani told 22News.

Enforcement discretion is up to individual U.S. attorneys. The Marijuana Policy Project is calling on Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling to respect the will of the voters and not interfere with the state’s legal marijuana market.

Despite the request, Lelling said he cannot provide assurances that certain categories of Marijuana industry participants will be immune from federal prosecution.

“Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do,” Lelling said in a statement to 22News.

Lelling said he plans to proceed on a case-by-case basis and assess each matter according to the federal law.

Licensed Marijuana shops are expected to open in July.