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Ingold and Wallace write: "A little-known federal law makes it possible to execute people who grow more than 60,000 marijuana plants."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a law enforcement roundtable on sanctuary cities held by President Donald Trump, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on March 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a law enforcement roundtable on sanctuary cities held by President Donald Trump, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on March 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty)

Jeff Sessions Wants Prosecutors to Seek the Death Penalty Against Big Drug Dealers, Including Legal Marijuana Business Owners

By John Ingold and Alicia Wallace, The Denver Post

06 April 18

Little-known federal law makes it possible to execute people who grow more than 60,000 marijuana plants

o the litany of challenges facing Colorado’s state-licensed marijuana business owners, add another one: The federal government could — but probably won’t — try to execute them.

This week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to the nation’s federal prosecutors urging them to seek the death penalty in cases involving large-scale drug traffickers. The memo points to an existing but little-known federal law that already allows for such a punishment.

Sessions’ memo talks largely about opioids, but federal law contains no such drug-specific limitation on prosecutors’ power. Trace the law’s meandering route through federal statutes and you’ll come to this conclusion: Anyone convicted of cultivating more than 60,000 marijuana plants or possessing more than 60,000 kilograms of a substance that contains marijuana could face death as a punishment.

So, did Sessions just greenlight using the death penalty against the nation’s largest marijuana business owners?

“I think it’s still very theoretical,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who specializes in marijuana law and in the death penalty. “I don’t think anyone thinks the federal government is going to seek the death penalty against a state-licensed business. But what it highlights is this enormous disconnect with federal and state law.”

Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, similarly dismissed the possibility of executions for marijuana business moguls, even if it is technically possible under the law.

“I really think that’s just bluster,” he said.

The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham was among the first to notice the latest Sessions memo’s potential impact on licensed marijuana businesses, which, while legal under their states’ laws, are criminal drug traffickers under federal law.

But Smith and Kamin said they and others familiar with the fine intricacies of marijuana law have known about the death penalty provision for a while. They questioned whether it would hold up under a Supreme Court challenge.

The key to the law is the quantity of plants an operation cultivates — 60,000, double what is needed for federal prosecutors to seek a lifetime prison sentence. Colorado’s biggest marijuana businesses are secretive when it comes to how many plants they are growing at one time; state regulators won’t release that data for individual businesses.

But asked how many businesses have more than 60,000 plants in their warehouses and greenhouses, Smith said, “There are many.”

In June, the last month for which this data is available, there were nearly 1 million marijuana plants under cultivation by Colorado’s state-licensed cannabis businesses. In California, one of the biggest dispensaries is building out a farm it expects will grow 100,000 plants at a time. And Smith said laws in states that have more recently adopted legal marijuana but limit the number of sales licenses available have probably increased the number of super-sized pot grows in the country.

So, while marijuana business owners think their imminent capital prosecutions are unlikely, they’re not exactly joking about it either.

Kristi Kelly, the executive director of the Colorado-based Marijuana Industry Group, said her organization has been closely watching Sessions and his policy shifts. Although Sessions has pulled back more explicit protection for cannabis businesses that are operating in compliance with their states’ laws, a lot of discretion is still left up to local U.S. attorneys to decide whether they want to file charges against a marijuana company.

Absent obvious violations of state law, federal prosecutors in Colorado have been fairly hands-off with the industry. And Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said in January that nothing had changed in his office’s marijuana enforcement priorities since President Donald Trump took office.

For Kelly, that means businesses should continue to follow state law in good faith and not freak out — unless they receive more information suggesting that they should.

“So if there was a change in (Troyer’s position), that may be a factor,” Kelly said.

A message left Wednesday for comment from Troyer’s office was not returned, and a federal Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the memo’s meaning for marijuana businesses.

But, even if marijuana business owners won’t be headed to death row, Kamin said the memo has another impact — especially coming from an official who has not hid his disdain for the cannabis industry.

“What Sessions is reminding us,” Kamin said, “is that losing your life is at least statutorily possible.” your social media marketing partner


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+7 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-04-06 12:43
Sessions is outside his own century, stuck in some distant time & age: but still powerful, alas.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-07 06:45
totally agree. It is hard to imagine what planet he thinks he's living on. I'd guess he will be fired in a short while.
-3 # Robbee 2018-04-06 14:22
*WARNING! this note, reminding us that the dem party stands with us against crap that putin, dickhead and repukes controlling congress pull, OFFENDS b&b!
Quoting bread and butter 2018-03-02 08:52:
Robbee ... you don't deserve a response

b&b says best keep the swamp full!

now my post -
if there’s no difference between parties? how come dems never come up with crap like dickhead pulls? how come dems fight for chip, medicaid, medicare, social security, black lives, me too, equal pay, choice, immigrants, marijuana, lgbtq, quality free non-religious public ed thru high school, free college, single payer, family leave, a living minimum wage, EPA. CDC, science, Puerto Rico, free press, free market, free speech, bank regs, breathable air, drinkable water, no arctic drilling, save national parks, hike taxes on the rich (3x under barak), justices on scotus who would reverse “citizens united” for bmillionaires, gun safety measures, a prez who is not a dickhead, renewable fuel, so forth?

or is that too much to ask here on rsn? whatsa matta? are differences over such matters too small to care?

- we had our last clear shot at escaping dickhead in nov. 2016 - AND WHIFFED!

“never hillary!” = “dickhead forever!”

the shortest path to progress lies not thru putin's russia, as several here propose, but thru the dem party!

“we have seen the enemy! and they are us! - pogo

"Next time, we must resolve to MAKE OUR VOTE COUNT!" - (caps in original) - bernie
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-07 06:50
Sessions seems to care only about two issues: so-called illegal immigrants and marijuana. The rest of the total mess in his department -- the DOJ and FBI -- is simply beyond his care. Why is he so clueless and obsessed with drugs and immigrants? By any estimate, these are minor problems in the US. States are doing a better job of taking care of the drug problem on their own.

Sessions has "recused" himself from running the DOJ. He's handed that over to the corrupt Rod Rosenstein who continues the Russiagate witch hunt, and is thereby destroying the DOJ and ramping up a cold war with Russia that will bankrupt the nation. If Sessions had any brains or balls (don't know which), he would "unrecuse" himself and fire Rosenstein and begin cleaning out the DOJ and FBI. But alas, he has neither brains nor balls.

Maybe he's smoking too much pot.
0 # laborequalswealth 2018-04-07 09:45
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions - named after TWO traitors who caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans for the "right" to enslave and steal the lives and labor of million of kidnapped Africans - is just another moral maggot crawling thru the rotting corpse of American democracy.

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