Statement from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling Regarding the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Massachusetts
As of July 1, 2018, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts legalized the distribution of marijuana for recreational and other non-medical uses and, based on public reports, the Cannabis Control Commission is now reviewing applications for licenses to grow and sell marijuana products.
Marijuana distribution, however, remains illegal; it is specifically prohibited by federal law. Because I have a constitutional obligation to enforce the laws passed by Congress, I will not effectively immunize the residents of the Commonwealth from federal marijuana enforcement. My office’s resources, however, are primarily focused on combatting the opioid epidemic that claims thousands of lives in the Commonwealth each year.
Having considered these factors, and the experiences of other states that have legalized marijuana distribution for non-medical use, I anticipate focusing my office’s marijuana enforcement efforts in the following areas:
- Overproduction: Despite regulatory efforts to address this problem, licensed outdoor marijuana cultivation still creates a significant risk of overproduction, which in turn creates the risk of illegal, and lucrative, marijuana sales to users in nearby states where recreational marijuana use remains illegal. These out-of-state sales are nearly always cash transactions and so often involve federal tax fraud designed to hide the illicit cash or its true source.
- Targeted Sales to Minors: Advocates for state-level legalization fail to emphasize the risks marijuana use poses for minors. And, despite state-mandated age requirements, marijuana use among minors will surely now increase. Study after study confirms that regular marijuana use is dangerous to adolescent brain development, a process that appears to continue into a person’s early 20s. The targeted sale of marijuana to minors may warrant federal prosecution.
- Organized Crime and Interstate Transportation of Drug Proceeds: Drug proceeds often finance organized criminal activities. My office will continue to prosecute organized criminal groups, like MS-13, that distribute drugs in violation of federal law, regardless of whether that distribution is legal under state laws. To that end, federal investigators will continue to police the Commonwealth for incoming or outgoing shipments of cash as well as use of the federal banking system.
This list is not exclusive, but only intended to clarify which aspects of the state-level marijuana industry are most likely to warrant federal involvement. My office will continue to review all potential marijuana enforcement matters on a case-by-case basis, guided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Principles of Federal Prosecution.