US attorney general Jeff Sessions is rescinding an Obama-era policy that paved the way for legalised marijuana to flourish in states across the country.
The decision creates new confusion about enforcement and use just three days after a new legalisation law went into effect in California.
President Donald Trump‘s top law enforcement official was to formally announce the change, sources said.
Instead of the previous lenient-federal-enforcement policy, Mr Sessions‘ new stance will instead let federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce long-standing federal law prohibiting it, the people said.
Mr Sessions‘ plan drew immediate strong objection from Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of eight states that have legalised marijuana for recreational use.
Mr Gardner said in a tweet that the Justice Department “has trampled on the will of the voters” in Colorado and other states.
He said the action would contradict what Mr Sessions had told him before the attorney general was confirmed and that he was prepared “to take all steps necessary” to fight the step including holding up the confirmation of Justice Department nominees.
Mr Sessions is rescinding the policy by former president Barack Obama‘s Justice Department that has generally barred federal law enforcement officials from interfering with marijuana sales in states where the drug is legal.
The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before the announcement.
The move by Mr Trump‘s attorney general likely is sure to add to confusion about whether it is permitted to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where the drug is legal.
It comes just after shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world‘s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.
While Mr Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Mr Trump‘s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to marijuana policy reflect his own concerns.
Mr Trump‘s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.
Mr Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement.
Marijuana advocates argue that legalising the drug eliminates the need for a black market and will likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.
The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalise marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and keep it out of the hands of criminal gangs and children.
Mr Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by then-deputy attorney general James M. Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.