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Report: Sessions to end ‘hands-off’ policy that allowed pot legalization to flourish

Marijuana plants grow at the Green Pearl Organics dispensary on Monday in Desert Hot Springs, California. On New Year's Day, California became the sixth state to allow the sale of recreational marijuana. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will rescind a "hands-off" policy that allowed states to legalize marijuana use without federal intervention, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

According to the AP, Sessions will make the announcement Thursday. The report comes shortly after California legalized the use of recreational marijuana.

What is the policy Sessions is rescinding?

While some states have legalized the use of marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law.

According to CNN, a 2013 legal memorandum issued by the Justice Department — known as the "Cole memo" — permitted a “hands-off approach” for federal prosecutors in states in which the drug had been legalized for recreational or medical use as long as the state’s laws did not threaten other federal priorities, such as preventing distribution of the drug to minors or preventing drugged driving.

CNN noted that the policy created a conflict in some circumstances between federal and state law.

It was not immediately clear what, if any, guidelines Sessions will issue in place of the Cole memo.

The AP reported that the end of the current policy would allow U.S. attorneys in states where marijuana use is legal to decide whether or not they will aggressively enforce federal law on the drug’s use.

The end of the policy will likely add to the confusion about conflicts between state and federal law in states that permit growing, buying, and using the drug, which are prohibited by federal law.

How many states permit marijuana use?

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 29 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, permit the medical use of marijuana. California became the first state to authorize medical marijuana in 1996.

On Monday, California became the sixth state to allow the sale of recreational marijuana. According to CNN, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada also permit recreational marijuana. Massachusetts will begin allowing the sale of recreational marijuana on July 1. Maine has also approved recreational marijuana but has not yet set a date when they will begin such sales.

The AP reported that the pot business has become a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement. California’s sales are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.

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