Gov. Tom Wolf vowed Thursday to protect Pennsylvanians from what he called “backwards attacks” by the federal government on the state’s new medical marijuana program.
Wolf’s stance came following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announcement that he is doing away with the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country.
Sessions said he will let federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce long-standing federal law prohibiting it. Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance, similar to heroin.
“Despite backwards moves by the Trump administration, I will continue to protect cancer patients, kids with epilepsy, veterans with PTSD and all Pennsylvanians seeking relief from legal medical marijuana,” Wolf said. “In Pennsylvania, we legalized medical marijuana in an overwhelming and bipartisan fashion, and we are months away from getting this medicine to patients that need it.”
Wolf did not say how he can prevent Sessions’ actions.
“We are evaluating the exact impact rescinding the directive could have on Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, but I will continue to do everything in my power to protect Pennsylvania patients,” he said.
Recently appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott Brady, said Thursday that he plans to “vigorously enforce the laws of the United States.”
“This office will continue to deploy all prosecutorial tools at our disposal to protect the citizens of western Pennsylvania from those individuals and criminal organizations which traffic in all illegal controlled substances, including marijuana,” he said in a statement, while declining to elaborate what this meant for the state’s medical marijuana program.
Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 17 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.
Qualified patients with a doctor’s recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary.
Support for marijuana legalization has been growing each year among Americans.
A Gallup poll in October showed 64 percent of those polled said they support legalizing marijuana. Of Republicans polled, 51 percent supported legalization, a 9 percentage point increase compared to the previous year. Gallup said it was the first time that a majority of Republicans have backed marijuana legalization in its polling. About 72 percent of Democrats supported pot legalization.
A CBS News poll in April found that over three-quarters of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 support marijuana legalization.
“The Trump Administration must put patients’ rights first, and I will not stand for backwards attacks on the progress made in Pennsylvania to provide medicine to those in need,” Wolf said.
Sessions appears to be resolute in fighting marijuana leniency.
“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” Sessions said in a statement. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.