States Keep Saying Yes to Marijuana Use. Now Comes the Federal No.

In a national vote widely viewed as a victory for conservatives, last year’s elections also yielded a win for liberals in eight states that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. But the growing industry is facing a federal crackdown under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has compared cannabis to heroin.

A task force Mr. Sessions appointed to, in part, review links between violent crimes and marijuana is scheduled to release its findings by the end of the month. But he has already asked Senate leaders to roll back rules that block the Justice Department from bypassing state laws to enforce a federal ban on medical marijuana.

That has pitted the attorney general against members of Congress across the political spectrum — from Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey — who are determined to defend states’ rights and provide some certainty for the multibillion-dollar pot industry.

“Our attorney general is giving everyone whiplash by trying to take us back to the 1960s,” said Representative Jared Huffman, Democrat of California, whose district includes the so-called Emerald Triangle that produces much of America’s marijuana.

“Prosecutorial discretion is everything given the current conflict between the federal law and the law of many states,” he said in an 

 In February, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said the Trump administration would look into enforcing federal law against recreational marijuana businesses. Some states are considering tougher stands: In Massachusetts, for example, the Legislature is trying torewrite a law to legalize recreational marijuana that voters passed in November.

Around one-fifth of Americans now live in states where marijuana is legal for adult use, according to the Brookings Institution, and an estimated 200 million live in places where medicinal marijuana is legal. Cannabis retailing has moved from street corners to state-of-the-art dispensaries and stores, with California entrepreneurs producing rose gold vaporizers and businesses in Colorado selling infused drinks.

Mr. Sessions is backed by a minority of Americans who view cannabis as a “gateway” drug that drives social problems, like the recent rise in opioid addiction.

“We love Jeff Sessions’s position on marijuana because he is thinking about it clearly,” said Scott Chipman, Southern California chairman for 

Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana.

He dismissed the idea of recreational drug use. “‘Recreational’ is a bike ride, a swim, going to the beach,” he said. “Using a drug to put your brain in an altered state is not recreation. That is self-destructive behavior and escapism.”

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