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Dept. of Justice apparently gearing up for a marijuana crackdown

The presidential Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is meant to focus on the prevention and reduction of violent crime. To accomplish that, however, it appears it may be reconsidering federal marijuana policy, even as it stands in regards to states' rights.

"Sessions and other DOJ officials have been out there over the last month and explicitly the last couple of weeks talking about how immigration and marijuana increases violent crime," according to the director of the highly respected Brennan Center Justice Program. "We're worried there's going to be something in the recommendations that is either saying that that's true or recommending action be taken based on that being true."

The initial recommendations were due this week, according to The Hill. Beyond observations from the criminal justice community, there is some clear evidence that a crackdown on marijuana use may be in the works.

In April, Sessions sent out a memo explaining that the task force would be reviewing existing policies in the areas of "charging, sentencing, and marijuana" to ensure they are in line with the Justice Department's overall violent crime strategy.

In May, Sessions reversed course on a popular Obama-era policy limiting the sentences typically handed down in federal cases involving low-level, nonviolent drug offenders like marijuana users. Sessions ordered U.S. attorneys to seek the harshest appropriate sentence in every case.

Also in May, Sessions asked congressional leaders to get rid of an amendment to the DOJ's budget which keeps it from interfering in states' attempts to implement plans to decriminalize or legalize and regulate medical marijuana. He wrote in a letter to lawmakers that it wouldn't be wise to limit the agency's prosecutorial discretion "in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime."

It's unclear how cracking down on marijuana would reduce violent crime, especially because law enforcement doesn't see cannabis as particularly problematic in that regard.

"From a practitioner's point of view, marijuana is not a drug that doesn't have some danger to it, but it's not the drug that's driving violent crime in America," said a former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department who is now co-chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

It's also not clear that we're seeing a "potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the Department of Justice, the violent crime rate has dropped by over 75 percent since 1993.

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