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Justice Department Reversal Won't Change Marijuana Enforcement In Ohio

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman speaks at a press conference of law enforcement officials with updates on the investigation into the Ohio State attack in November 2016.
Esther Honig

A memo from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions gives federal attorneys more freedom in how they enforce marijuana regulations, but Ben Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, says that won’t change his approach here.

On Thursday, Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidelines that de-prioritized the enforcement of marijuana regulations as more states legalized it. Sessions, a vocal opponent of marijuana, made way for individual U.S. attorneys to decide how aggressively to go after marijuana in their jurisdictions.

Ohio's own medical marijuana program is set to be operational in September, and advocates are pushing for a ballot issue in the November election to legalize recreational marijuana as well.

But Glassman says the memo won’t change how he approaches marijuana law enforcement in the district, in large part because his main focus is on the opioid crisis.

“The opioid epidemic is the public health and safety crisis of our lifetime,” Glassman says. “I’ve also pointed out the disturbing increase in stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, and the Attorney General’s made clear that he fully supports our efforts on these fronts.”

Glassman says he has to concentrate his prosecution efforts where he can “make the biggest impact in reducing harm and promoting public safety.”

Marijuana is federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. But Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and the state of Washington allow the sale of recreational marijuana, and California began recreational sales on January 1. Meanwhile, Ohio and 20 other states allow medical use of marijuana, and two states and D.C. legalized both recreational and medical use but not sales.

Over the past year, Ohio has licensed a dozen medical marijuana cultivators across the state, and is in the process of awarding licenses for dispensaries. The first of those cultivation sites is being built in Yellow Springs, and will be run by Chicago-based Cresco Labs.

“The way we’ve approached marijuana and all illegal drugs is consistent with what the Attorney General’s memo that he issued yesterday says," Glassman says. "So what he issued yesterday is consistent with how we’ve been handling investigations of marijuana and all other controlled substances.”

In a written statement, the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the program, said it’s following guidelines set up in the new law and won’t speculate about federal decisions. 

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.