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Crime and safety task force urges caution on marijuana changes

Attorney General Jeff Sessions may not be thrilled with the recommendations of the presidential Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which he heads. The Associated Press obtained a portion of the task force's recommendations, which have not been made public but were due to be released on July 27.

The task force was set up to fight violent crime, and Sessions has said publicly that he sees marijuana as just as dangerous as heroin and believes it to be a driver of violence.

Based on policy changes he has issued regarding federal drug enforcement, it appeared he was expecting a report urging a harsh crackdown on marijuana -- even, perhaps, in states that have legalized it.

Instead, the portion of the report obtained by the AP appears to be much more cautious, largely reiterating existing policy. That may be intentional, according to a Brookings Institution fellow who focuses on marijuana law and was contacted by members of the task force. He says the vague recommendations may signal recognition that there is no turning back the clock on what is now a multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

So, rather than giving the green light for a major crackdown on pot users and marijuana dispensaries, the report suggests a more measured approach, according to the AP.

First, it vaguely recommends that officials "evaluate whether to maintain, revise or rescind" Obama-era policy memos that allowed states to move forward with legalization as long as they met conditions -- keeping weed from spreading to non-legalization states, preventing criminal cartels from becoming involved, and keeping it out of the hands of children. Changes to those policies could have profound effects on the legalization movement.

Next, the report suggests that DOJ and Treasury Department officials provide legal guidance to banks and financial institutions so that they can provide services to the legal marijuana industry while still preventing money laundering by illegal drug cartels. This, however, is already mandated by federal law.

Two years ago, the Government Accountability Office said the DOJ wasn't tracking and documenting its marijuana enforcement data well enough. The report says the agency should create a centralized set of guidance, tools and data.

The report also weighs in on a rule that prevents the DOJ from interfering with state medical marijuana programs. Sessions asked Congressional leaders to overturn the rule in May and was denied. The report recommends overturning the rule.

The task force's recommendations are not binding, and it's not clear how much weight Sessions will place on them. The report's executive summary notes that these recommendations "do not comprehensively address every effort that the Department is planning or currently undertaking to reduce violent crime."

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