U.S. Attorney Lelling’s Stance on Marijuana Comes into Sharper Focus

Back in January, on the heels of the Sessions Memo, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling’s affirmation that his “office [would] pursue federal marijuana crimes as part of its overall approach to reducing violent crime [and] stemming the tide of the drug crisis,” coupled with his stated refusal to “provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade [would] be immune from federal prosecution,” led many to wonder what the future of legalized marijuana would look like here in the Bay State. Earlier this month, however, Lelling, Massachusetts’ most powerful federal law enforcement officer, elucidated his position regarding the prosecution of cannabusinesses in the Commonwealth:

Because I have a constitutional obligation to enforce the laws passed by Congress, I will not effectively immunize the residents of the Commonwealth from federal marijuana enforcement.  My office’s resources, however, are primarily focused on combatting the opioid epidemic that claims thousands of lives in the Commonwealth each year.

His focus, he went on say, will be three-fold: overproduction, which “creates the risk of illegal, and lucrative, marijuana sales to users in nearby states where recreational marijuana use remains illegal”; targeted sales to minors, as “study after study confirms that regular marijuana use is dangerous to adolescent brain development, a process that appears to continue into a person’s early 20s”; and organized crime and interstate transportation of drug proceeds, which “often finance organized criminal activities.”

While this doesn’t break with current business as usual here in Massachusetts, but it does, however, offer much-sought reassurance that those who are involved in the industry legally do not have much to fear going forward. Perhaps the biggest question that remains to be answered is how lending and financial institutions will greet the news; will the U.S. Attorney’s remarks inspire banks and credit unions to begin taking on cannabis clientele more broadly, or will the plant’s Schedule I status continue to serve as (arguably) the industry’s most significant barrier to entry?

Although the momentum of the legalization movement and the progress made here in the Commonwealth continue unabated, only time will tell.