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Jan 12, 2018 4:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Zeldin Sides With Sessions On Recreational Marijuana Crackdown

Jan 14, 2018 6:20 PM

U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin continues to toe a fine line in the aftermath of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s announcement that allows prosecutors to enforce federal laws in states where marijuana has been legalized.

Last week, Mr. Sessions rescinded the “Cole Memo,” penned by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013, that established a hands-off policy with states, such as California and Colorado, that had legalized the drug. The memo recognized that marijuana was still illegal on the federal level by the Controlled Substances Act, but gave prosecutors license to focus their resources on more serious drug crimes.

Declining multiple requests for an interview, Mr. Zeldin instead issued a short statement through his communications director, Katie Vincentz, on Thursday, January 11. The statement suggests that Mr. Zeldin, like Mr. Sessions, is in favor of federal prosecution—regardless of where individual states fall on the issue.

“I do not support legalizing marijuana for recreational use and believe that the federal law should be enforced,” Ms. Vincentz reported that Mr. Zeldin said.

The congressman’s statement also suggested that he favors a state-by-state review for legalizing medical marijuana, though that usage of the drug is unlikely to be threatened by Mr. Sessions’s recent move. Medical marijuana has been protected by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment since 2014, which blocks the U.S. Department of Justice from spending funds on prosecuting states’ implementation of medical marijuana laws. The amendment does need to be renewed every fiscal year, however.

Mr. Zeldin’s conflicting statements encompass the arguments on both sides of the federalism debate that Mr. Sessions’s announcement has sparked throughout the country, creating odd bedfellows as Republicans are forced to decide between defending states’ rights or prosecuting marijuana sale and use—two traditionally conservative opinions.

The issue has trickled down to the state level, too. On Thursday, January 11, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse held a public hearing to discuss the finer points of a longstanding bill, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The bill would legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. New York legalized medical marijuana back in 2014.

During the hearing, experts from different fields reportedly made arguments for ending the ban in the marijuana arrest capital of the country; New York’s punishing drug laws have been largely unchanged in the past half-century. The hearing seems in step with public opinion; in November, a poll conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance found that 62 percent of New York residents support legalizing the drug.

But according to State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., the bill will probably molder in committee for at least another year. “It is more likely to go to vote in the Assembly than the Senate,” he said on Friday. “But I’d say the chances of passage are slim.”

He added that the Assembly hearing was planned in advance of Mr. Sessions’s announcement.

Mr. Thiele, a member of the Independence Party who caucuses with the Democrats, says he remains “not convinced” that legalizing recreational marijuana is the right way to go. “I supported federal policy under the Obama administration,” he said. “This should be a state issue.”

He feels that more than any significant shift in policy, Mr. Sessions’s comments have really just thrown the whole issue into turmoil. “As often is the case with the Trump administration, things are more confused now than ever,” Mr. Thiele added.

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By LI native (127), LI on Jan 16, 18 2:26 AM