WASHINGTON (CN) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that the Trump administration is reversing an Obama-era policy that gave states room to legalize marijuana.
The change will allow federal prosecutors to enforce marijuana laws in their districts as they see fit, a shift from the policy put in place during the Obama administration that limited federal enforcement of marijuana laws.
In a memo released on Thursday announcing the change, Sessions says the shift is necessary because Congress has made it clear through other laws that "marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime."
The memo directs prosecutors to consider details like the seriousness of the crime, its impact on the community and how a prosecution will deter future crime before deciding to prosecute a marijuana offense.
"It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission," Sessions said in a statement. "Therefore, today's memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis and thwart violent crime across our country."
Among those angered by Sessions' announcement was Sen. Corey Gardner, R-Colo., who sent out a series of tweets Thursday accusing Sessions of reneging on promises that the state laws on marijuana would not be challenged.
“I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation,” Gardner tweeted. "This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., likewise criticized the decision as a federal intrusion into a state issue.
Meanwhile, Colorado's U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, responded to Sessions' announcement by saying his office won't change its approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes.
In a statement, Bob Troyer said he has always focused on prosecuting marijuana crimes that "create the greatest safety threats" and will continue to be guided by that goal. He said that's consistent with Sessions' latest guidance.
In 2013 the Obama Justice Department issued a memo detailing that federal prosecutors should generally leave state marijuana laws untouched and focus instead on enforcing a limited range of drug priorities. Referred to as the Cole Memo after Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the document listed department priorities such as keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors and preventing criminal groups from making money off of drug sales.
The policy is in part credited with the recent increase in states relaxing marijuana laws. Twenty-nine states have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes, while eight states and the District of Columbia also allow recreation use of the drug.
California legalized marijuana in 2016 and its recreational marijuana market opened for business at the turn of the new year.