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On Medical Marijuana, Ohio And Justice Department Move Down Divergent Paths

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Ohio hits one of its first deadlines this week in the process of legalizing medical marijuana. But it comes at the same time U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants permission to spend federal money to prosecute medical marijuana providers.


Sessions sent a letter to Congress last week arguing that marijuana is a gateway drug and his department should have latitude to prosecute medical marijuana cases. He’s asking Congress to waive a bipartisan measure passed in 2014 that forbids spending public money to pursue such cases in states where medical marijuana use is legal.

Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, has been following Ohio’s move toward legalization, including Friday's deadline to apply for licenses to operate Ohio’s smaller cultivation sites.

“It’s his (Sessions') basic belief that marijuana use on its own terms is not healthy and something the society should be condoning," Berman says. "And conversely an awful lot of advocates not only look at marijuana as not nearly as dangerous as other people think, but that it’s  a positive good and one that ought to be promoted and regulated and available to people.” 

Sessions' letter cites the opioid crisis as a reason to clamp down on marijuana use. But medical marijuana advocates in Ohio say it should be approved as a treatment for opioid addiction and an alternative to painkiller prescriptions. 

Berman says Sessions has introduced some uncertainty into what’s expected to be a boom market in Ohio. 

“Lots of industry interests, lots of beliefs that this will be a robust marketplace for medical marijuana running up against the possibility that federal officials will be expressing an inclination to crack down on that," Berman says. "How that will play out both for the industry and for state officials trying to thread the needle in the months and years ahead remain to be seen.”

Sessions also is revisiting an Obama-era agreement not to pursue cases in recreational marijuana states.