U.S. Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions has issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors announcing that going forward, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will use general “well-established principles” governing prosecutorial discretion with respect to enforcing the federal prohibition on marijuana use. The AG’s January 4 memorandum rescinds previous Obama-era guidance that carved out recreational and medical marijuana use that was legal under state law for essentially “hands-off” treatment by federal law enforcement authorities.

Coincidentally or not, Mr. Sessions’ memorandum came just days after a new California law legalizing recreational marijuana use took effect on January 1. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996. Marijuana use continues to be illegal under federal law.  

For employers, of course, the problem with operating in a state that has legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use (or both), is that such use conflicts directly with drug-free workplace policies. While it is impossible to judge at this point what kind of practical impact the Sessions memo may have, to the extent that the federal government is signaling a tougher enforcement stance, it may serve to bolster drug-free workplace programs.  

The Sessions memorandum is available here.  

Members of the Center for Workplace Compliance (CWC) can read more here.