First in Line to Prosecute: Massachusetts?

Tara Tedrow

Just a few weeks ago, state legislators in Massachusetts were seeing green. Massachusetts Department of Revenue commissioner Christopher Harding delivered optimistic testimony before state legislators, noting that taxes on recreational marijuana sales could potentially net the state between $44 million and $82 million in the next fiscal year. The speculation on tax revenue stemmed from the recreational marijuana program that was approved, making Massachusetts one of eight states where voters passed initiatives legalizing recreational use of the drug. Unsurprisingly, since last Thursday's explosive announcement by Jeff Sessions, existing marijuana companies and business hopefuls in Massachusetts have been anxiously awaiting clarification from federal prosecutors.

Wait no more.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, Massachusetts' top federal prosecutor, has affirmatively stated that he will not rule out prosecuting businesses dealing in marijuana. Lelling noted:

"Congress has unambiguously made it a federal crime to cultivate, distribute and/or possess marijuana. As a law enforcement officer in the Executive Branch, it is my sworn responsibility to enforce that law, guided by the Principles of Federal Prosecution."

He added, "Deciding, in advance, to immunize a certain category of actors from federal prosecution would be to effectively amend the laws Congress has already passed, and that I will not do."

Lelling said he will proceed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether going after a state-sanctioned marijuana business is worthy of expending "limited federal resources" to pursue. What this means for companies in Massachusetts is unclear. Just like the Sessions memo, we now know policy positions, but can only guess what will be the practical implementation.

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