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EDITORIAL: Let state ‘laboratories’ work out the rules for recreational pot

Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP

At least six states have legalized recreational marijuana, often in different ways, essentially making them laboratories of what works and what doesn’t.

Every other state still debating the wisdom of legalizing recreational pot, including Illinois, ultimately will benefit. We’ll know better, if and when Illinois goes down that road, how to fashion laws and regulations that are prudent and effective.

If ever there were an issue where the individual states should left be free of federal big-footing, recreational pot is it.

EDITORIAL

But now, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to close down those labs, motivated less by informed concerns about the dangers of pot than by an outdated “Reefer Madness” view.

Last week, Sessions told federal prosecutors across the country he was ripping up the Obama administration’s policy of discouraging prosecution of minor cases of marijuana possession and distribution. That would open the door for prosecutors to enforce tough federal marijuana laws, even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

In his memo, Sessions said “marijuana is a dangerous drug and … marijuana activity is a serious crime.”

Sessions is trying to stop historic change that is spreading throughout the country. A marijuana legalization law went into effect in California on Jan. 1. Just hours after Sessions sent out his memo, the Vermont House passed a bill Thursday night to legalize possession of recreational marijuana.

In Illinois, state Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, plan to introduce revised legislation in the Legislature’s new session to legalize recreational marijuana. They have been holding town halls and public hearings and meeting with stakeholders to fashion a bill that puts together the best ideas, Cassidy said last week.

Sessions’ memo won’t force federal prosecutors to crack down on minor marijuana cases. But it’s possible some U.S. attorneys will do so, now that he has given them the green light. The threat of a federal crackdown might well upend the $9.7 billion legal-marijuana industry.

Important issues surrounding marijuana policies are at stake. If state’s new laws are successful, they can do much to end the violence surrounding the illegal drug trade. Revenues from legal marijuana could pay for important social programs around the nation. Sessions should not be so cavalier about shutting down the laboratories.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control reported the United States had the most fatal drug overdoses in history in 2016 — and those overdoses were not caused by marijuana. Federal policy should focus on the epidemic of opioid abuse and let the states figure out how to handle marijuana.

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