Andrew Lelling, the new U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, met with reporters Wednesday, and discussed his stances on marijuana and immigration.
Lelling acknowledged that federal and state marijuana laws are in conflict, but he indicated he won't prioritize prosecuting pot crimes in the state.
"[Marijuana is] illegal under federal law," he said, but he wanted to "make clear that we do cases on a case by case basis, and the No. 1 drug enforcement priority for us is not marijuana right now, it's opioids."
Lelling's stance on the issue has been closely watched because Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana.
Jim Borghesani, who pushed for legalization here, said he hopes Lelling's comments mean that businesses will not be prosecuted if they comply with the state's pot law.
"We recognize the political realities that he's facing," Borghesani said. "We're hopeful that he recognizes the desire in Massachusetts to have a safe and regulated cannabis industry."
The U.S. attorney said his office typically prosecutes cases where there is money laundering and large amounts of pot trafficked from other countries.
Lelling served as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Boston for a dozen years before he was sworn-in as the head of it last month.
He also said he expects people "will see increased immigration enforcement from my office."
"That is a priority coming out of Washington, it's important to the president, it's important to the attorney general," Lelling said.
"I'm appointed by the president to pursue the president's law enforcement agenda," he added.
Lelling said increases in immigration enforcement may come in two ways:
- First, tacking on additional immigration charges to cases that end up in federal court already, like drug trafficking.
- And second, more immigration cases dealing with marriage fraud and illegal reentry into the country after deportation.
Susan Church, a Cambridge-based immigration attorney, said this all amounts to a solution in search of a problem.
"The idea of adding charges to people already charged in federal court, I mean, talk about a waste of time, effort, money and energy," Church said.
Lelling said his office will also continue to prioritize serious criminals who are here illegally.
With reporting by WBUR's Shannon Dooling and the Newscast Unit
This segment aired on January 24, 2018.