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If Sessions Wants To Roll Back States' Rights On Legal Pot, We'll See Him In Court

President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Quantico, Va. (Evan Vucci/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
President Donald Trump sits with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Quantico, Va. (Evan Vucci/AP)

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It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day when it comes to The Trump administration trying to punish Massachusetts.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he had removed a rule set in place by the Obama administration to deprioritize federal prosecution of marijuana-related cases in states where marijuana has been legalized.

Put simply, the decision shifts federal drug policy from a hands-off approach to a reach-in approach for federal prosecutors seeking to undo the progress made by states in developing safe, smart and economically productive marijuana policies.

Re-criminalizing marijuana in Massachusetts may be a priority for Attorney General Sessions — who has spent decades pushing his dangerous and regressive agenda — but it is not a priority for Massachusetts, where a clear majority of voters passed legalization and regulation on the November 2016 ballot.

The decision not only tries to silence the voice of voters who support a sensible approach to decriminalization and regulation of marijuana, it also attempts to disempower at least six states — including Massachusetts — from governing as they see fit when it comes to drug policy.

But here’s the thing: Massachusetts law prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from helping to enforce marijuana-related crime that is not criminal under our own laws here.

Sound familiar?

Last year, the ACLU of Massachusetts told the Trump administration in court that its ICE deportation machine can’t make Massachusetts cops do its bidding — and now, we’re standing up again to say that we will continue to fight to protect our commonwealth from federal overreach on all issues. Gov. Charlie Baker and Massachusetts Attorney General Healey agree: Federal law enforcement should stay out of this and let the will of Massachusetts voters stand.

There’s too much at stake to give up the fight against the Trump administration’s federal overreach.

Sessions’ decision to rescind this policy will have a disproportionate and disastrous impact on people of color. For too long, people in Massachusetts and across the country have been arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, including for marijuana possession, at a disturbing and disproportionate rate. Though rates of drug use are essentially the same across race, black people are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Massachusetts. The best way to address this disparity — Massachusetts voters agreed — is to remove the penalties themselves.

Unfortunately, a “simple” marijuana possession arrest gets devastatingly complicated for the person involved: marijuana criminalization impacts public housing, student financial aid eligibility, employment opportunities, child custody decisions, and immigration status.

That the Trump administration would prefer to revive this racist, mean-spirited and failed criminal justice response to personal marijuana use is simply one more example of the cruelty that dictates this administration's decision-making.

When Massachusetts voted yes to tax and regulate marijuana, our voters spoke loud and clear: We want safe, smart and economically productive marijuana policies. That vote took place before anyone ever imagined the Jeff Sessions’ backwards ideology hitting our state like a bolt of lightning from of the sky.

We’ve said it before in 2017 and we’ll say it now again in 2018: We’ll see you, Mr. Sessions, in court, if that’s what it takes to protect our state from the long arm of Donald Trump’s White House.

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Carol Rose Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Carol Rose is a lawyer, journalist and executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

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