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Task Force on Crime Reduction urges caution on marijuana policy

The president's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appears not to be ready to crack down on marijuana in an effort to reduce violent crime. Although its recommendations have not been made public, the Associated Press associated portions of them. The group has instead urged caution on making big changes to federal marijuana policy, especially when it comes to challenging states' rights to decriminalize the drug.

The task force is meant to address violent crime, and its report appears mostly to reiterate current Justice Department policy. More study is needed, it says, before any Obama-era policies should be swept away. Moreover, it recommends the Justice Department work collaboratively with states and other federal agencies to address some of the chronic problems experienced by the legal cannabis industry.

As we discussed on this blog last week, Sessions has directly associated marijuana with an uptick in violent crime he perceives. Based on previous policy changes he had made, it seems clear he hoped the task force would recommend greater restrictions on marijuana as a way to reduce violent crime and improve public safety.

Far from urging mass arrests or raids on legal marijuana dispensaries, the task force largely recommends staying the course, according to the Associated Press.

Without offering much direction, the report tells officials to "evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind" Obama-era policies that made it possible for states to legalize marijuana for adults as long as state lawmakers made an effort to keep the drug from spreading to other areas, getting into the hands of drug cartels, and becoming available to children. Major changes to those policies could make it much harder for states to legalize and regulate the drug.

The report also seeks the overturning of a rule that prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs. In May, Sessions asked lawmakers to overturn the rule, but they have so far refused to do so.

Perhaps the most interesting and important recommendations were two that encouraged cooperation. The report recommends the DOJ and the Treasury Department work together to help banks in pot-legal states work with the cannabis industry without running afoul of anti-money laundering controls. It also recommends the DOJ set up "centralized guidance, tools and data related to marijuana enforcement," since the Government Accountability Office says the agency needs to document its efforts better.

The task force report does not have the force of law, so Sessions might not give much weight to the recommendations.

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