By Troy Torres
Sen. Clynt Ridgell says people looking into an investment in Guam's medical- and adult-use cannabis industries don't have to worry about the federal government coming after them.
Mr. Ridgell was responding to comments made by U.S. Attorney Shawn Anderson in a Kandit story regarding Mr. Anderson's decision not to issue a priority list for the federal prosecution of cannabis crimes.
The so-called priority list has been issued by several U.S. Attorneys throughout the country in order to placate concerns in states, where cannabis use and sale has been legalized, that the federal government would begin arresting people engaged in business that is legal in those states and territories. The concern came about after then-United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has opposed the nationwide cannabis legalization trend, issued a 2018 memo instructing U.S. Attorneys to prosecute cannabis crimes.
He instructed federal prosecutors to move forward with prosecuting marijuana crimes and "to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community."
Since Mr. Sessions's memo, several U.S. Attorneys throughout the country have issued their own memos to federal law enforcement officers within their jurisdictions. These memos establish a priority list for federal prosecution in those states.
In Oregon, for example, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, wrote "I am committed to working in coordination with Oregon officials to address the issues the state marijuana law has engendered." He set out his office's five priorities for prosecutions of marijuana crimes: 1) Overproduction and interstate trafficking of marijuana; 2) Marijuana use and distribution among minors and those under 21 years of age; 3) The involvement of marijuana in violence, the possession of firearms, and other public safety threats; 4) Organized crime; and 5) The use of marijuana on federal lands, and its impact on natural resources and Oregon's environment.
The priority list has placated worries among cannabis industry business owners, investors, and others that the federal government would begin prosecuting them for doing business that is legal in Oregon, but illegal according to the national government. As long as their activities were not related to the crimes prioritized by Mr. Williams, these business owners could reasonably expect they would be safe from federal prosecution.
Guam and the CNMI have no such memorandum issued by the U.S. Attorney for our jurisdictions, Mr. Anderson.
"We rely on the Principles of Federal Prosecution (Justice Manual 9-27-000) in deciding whether to prosecute criminal offenses, including any related to marijuana," Mr. Anderson told Kandit News. "In addition, on January 4, 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance memo on marijuana enforcement. Our prosecution decisions are consistent with that memo, which is still in effect."
Despite the implications of the lack of a priority list for Guam and the CNMI, Mr. Ridgell says the Feds don't have the authority to spend any money cracking down on the medicinal cannabis industry. He also believes that in the very near future, the Justice Department will be directed to stand down on prosecuting cannabis possession and sale that is locally legal. Here is the senator's complete statement:
"First the federal budget act contains a provision that prevents the US Justice Department from spending any funds on the enforcement of medical cannabis laws in states and territories where medical cannabis is legal. This provision protects medical cannabis dispensaries from federal law enforcement and Guam is specifically included in this provision.
"Second but perhaps even more important is the fact that the President Elect Joe Biden has already pledged to decriminalize cannabis. Since his stance is to decriminalize cannabis it’s likely that the President will instruct the US Department of Justice to leave cannabis alone in the states and territories where it is legal.
"Finally, I believe cannabis will be legal at the federal level within 2-4 years. During this last election 4 more states legalized recreational cannabis and 1 more state legalized medical cannabis. Arizona, Montana, South Dakota and New Jersey all legalized recreational cannabis. Even Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in America, legalized medical marijuana. This brings the total number of states that have legalized either medical or recreational cannabis to 36. This means an overwhelming majority of the states have legalized cannabis in some form or fashion.
"There are a number of bills that have been introduced in Congress that all attempt to legalize cannabis. I believe it’s just a matter of time before one of the bills or some version of one of these bills makes it across the finish line. I believe it’s no longer a question of if cannabis will be federally legal but when."