In last year’s elections, eight states, including Arkansas, legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. But the growing industry is facing a federal crackdown under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has compared cannabis to heroin.
A task force that Sessions appointed to, in part, review links between violent crimes and marijuana is scheduled to release its findings by the end of the month. But he has already asked Senate leaders to roll back rules that block the Justice Department from bypassing state laws to enforce a federal ban on medical marijuana.
That has pitted the attorney general against members of Congress across the political spectrum — including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. — who are determined to defend states’ rights and provide some certainty for the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry.
“Our attorney general is giving everyone whiplash by trying to take us back to the 1960s,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., whose district includes the so-called Emerald Triangle that produces much of the United States’ marijuana.
“Prosecutorial discretion is everything given the current conflict between the federal law and the law of many states,” he said last month.
In February, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump’s administration would look into enforcing federal law against recreational marijuana businesses. Some states are considering tougher stands. In Massachusetts, for example, the Legislature is trying to rewrite a law legalizing recreational marijuana, which voters passed in November.
About 20 percent of Americans now live in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, according to the Brookings Institution, and an estimated 200 million live in places where medicinal marijuana is legal. Cannabis retailing has moved from street corners to state-of-the-art dispensaries and stores.
Sessions is backed by Americans who