Sessions’ marijuana crackdown worries Brooklyn lawmaker

Sen. Savino writes prosecutors to urge adherence to NYS law

January 24, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, pictured speaking at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Dec. 15 about efforts to reduce violent crime, also issued a memo to top federal prosecutors on the importance of prosecuting marijuana cases. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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A decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make it easier for federal prosecutors around the country to crackdown on marijuana use even in states where pot has been legalized is raising alarm bells for one Brooklyn lawmaker who is moving swiftly to seek assurances that New York state’s medical marijuana law will remain untouched.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Coney Island-Bensonhurst-Staten Island), the main sponsor of the state’s landmark Compassionate Care Act legalizing marijuana for medical treatment, has expressed concern over a Justice Department memo written by Sessions that essentially removes barriers U.S. attorneys faced when trying to prosecute cases involving pot.

While two dozen states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana in recent years, the sale, distribution and use of pot still remains illegal under federal law.

In the wake of the Sessions memo, Savino has written letters to all four of the U.S. attorneys who are based in New York urging them to allow the Compassionate Care Act to continue without interference from the federal government.

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Among the officials to whom Savino sent her letter is U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York, who has jurisdiction over federal cases in Brooklyn and on Long Island.

In her letter, Savino noted that the New York state law legalizing medical marijuana, which was enacted in 2014, contains numerous safeguards to prevent potential abuses.

“Our law created a strong and tightly regulated model that takes every step possible to prevent any diversion or recreational use of medical cannabis. Only patients with well-defined particular severe illnesses can access our program, and those patients must be certified by their treating medical professional as well as the State Department of Health. Abuse of the program can result in criminal charges for patients and medical professionals, as well as for the operating medical cannabis companies,” Savino wrote.

Savino was reacting to a Jan. 4 memo Session issued directing U.S. attorneys in all 50 states to prosecute cases to the fullest extent of the law. In his directive, the attorney general rescinded an Obama Administration rule that urged a hands-off approach on marijuana laws.

“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 wrote in his memo.

“Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all United States 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 in our country,” Sessions wrote.

But the New York state law has helped thousands of New Yorkers suffering from terrible diseases, something that the Department of Justice should take into consideration, according to Savino.

“As of today, over 40,000 patients are certified for the program, and the numbers are growing. We have seen patients suffering gravely from cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, MS, Huntington’s disease, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and other terrible ailments turn to medical cannabis and experience tremendous comfort and relief. We have also seen children suffering from hundreds of debilitating seizures a week experience an incredible reduction in the number of those seizures after using cannabis medicine. For so many people, cannabis is truly a life-changing medicine, and we’re seeing this every day in New York,” Savino wrote.

A federal crackdown on a law that already contains necessary safeguards would be a tragedy for patients, according to Savino.

“Our New York state medical cannabis program is a carefully and strongly regulated system that provides real relief to patients and their families as well as real economic development to our communities,” she wrote.


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