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Attorney General Cautiously Supports Letting States Legalize Marijuana

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The nation’s top cop thinks states should be allowed to legalize marijuana, but believes the federal government has a role to play in keeping cannabis away from kids and stopping interstate trafficking in the drug.

“I think states have to make those decisions on their own. They listen to their citizens and they take actions,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday. “What we have said and what we continue to say is that states have to also have a system designed to, number one, mitigate violence associated with their marijuana industries. And number two, and perhaps most importantly, keep young people, children away from the products.”

The attorney general pointed to reports of kids accidentally ingesting marijuana edibles as a top federal concern. “We’re seeing a number of situations where children gain access to products that look like candy or cookies or cakes. The purity is different and they’re becoming very, very ill,” she said.

Lynch also says she has heard complaints from officials in states that haven’t ended marijuana prohibition about the impact of other states’ legalization laws. “We also have concerns — and states have expressed this to me — where a state that has not legalized this particular substance sees people traveling across state lines to obtain it,” she said. “We do still intervene and we will still intervene in those areas.”

During her confirmation hearing in January, Lynch said that her predecessor Eric Holder’s policy of generally respecting state marijuana laws “certainly would be my policy if confirmed as attorney general.” In written answers to question from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said that the policy is “effective, consistent and rational.”

The ongoing federal approach is detailed in a 2013 memo that outlines eight enforcement priorities which, if abided by, will generally protect states and people acting in accordance with state marijuana laws from federal interference.

In the new interview, Todd pressed Lynch on whether she supports reclassifying marijuana under federal law. The drug is currently categorized under Schedule I — the most restrictive class, which is supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Lynch declined to reveal her position on rescheduling, pivoting instead to talk about broader criminal justice and drug policy issues.

Todd also asked if Lynch thought the federal government should intervene more in state marijuana affairs in light of the concerns she raised about children and interstate trafficking. “We still have a very strong enforcement policy there and we’ve said repeatedly that states need to have a regime in place to deal with these issues and the federal government is still intervening and is still looking at situations and cases where those are the issues,” she said. “Our overall goal is the protection of the American people.”

But despite generally respecting the right of states to legalize marijuana without much federal interference, Lynch isn’t personally a fan of ending prohibition. “I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support legalization, nor would it be the position if I were confirmed as attorney general,” she said in her confirmation hearing.

Watch the video of Lynch’s new remarks here.

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