By Troy Torres
The U.S. Attorney for Guam and the CNMI, Shawn Anderson, said his office will follow a 2018 memorandum from then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that directs U.S. Attorneys to prosecute marijuana crimes.
The Guam Legislature over the past decade has enacted a series of laws and regulations for the legal possession, cultivation, distribution, and sale of cannabis. "In the Controlled Substances Act, Congress has generally prohibited the cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana," Mr. Sessions reminded all United States Attorneys on January 4, 2018.
The increasing number of states and territories that legalized cannabis over the past two decades created a reckoning for federal law enforcement, since the local statutes contravened the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Justice Department under the Obama administration issued a series of guidance memos that all but told U.S. Attorneys not to waste resources on the prosecution of marijuana crimes in their respective jurisdictions.
Mr. Sessions, who has opposed the nationwide cannabis legalization trend, reversed all that in his 2018 memo.
"Given the [Justice] Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," he wrote.
He instead instructed federal prosecutors to move forward with prosecuting marijuana crimes and "to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community."
Since Mr. Sessions's memo, several U.S. Attorneys throughout the country have issued their own memos to federal law enforcement officers within their jurisdictions. These memos establish a priority list for federal prosecution in those states.
In Oregon, for example, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, wrote "I am committed to working in coordination with Oregon officials to address the issues the state marijuana law has engendered." He set out his office's five priorities for prosecutions of marijuana crimes: 1) Overproduction and interstate trafficking of marijuana; 2) Marijuana use and distribution among minors and those under 21 years of age; 3) The involvement of marijuana in violence, the possession of firearms, and other public safety threats; 4) Organized crime; and 5) The use of marijuana on federal lands, and its impact on natural resources and Oregon's environment.
The priority list has placated worries among cannabis industry business owners, investors, and others that the federal government would begin prosecuting them for doing business that is legal in Oregon, but illegal according to the national government. As long as their activities were not related to the crimes prioritized by Mr. Williams, these business owners could reasonably expect they would be safe from federal prosecution.
Guam and the CNMI have no such memorandum issued by the U.S. Attorney for our jurisdictions, Mr. Anderson.
"We rely on the Principles of Federal Prosecution (Justice Manual 9-27-000) in deciding whether to prosecute criminal offenses, including any related to marijuana," Mr. Anderson told Kandit News. "In addition, on January 4, 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance memo on marijuana enforcement. Our prosecution decisions are consistent with that memo, which is still in effect."
This means Mr. Anderson is not limiting the purview his federal prosecutors have over the prosecution of marijuana crimes.
Both the medical- and adult-use cannabis industries have yet to take off on Guam, due to the local government's gross inability to do anything right. It remains to be seen how far federal prosecutors will go to enforce the Controlled Substances Act as it relates to marijuana crimes in both Guam and the CNMI.