Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he is rolling back Obama-era guidelines that stopped the federal government from enforcing its anti-marijuana laws in states that have marijuana-friendly laws, CNN reported Thursday.
The change, depending on how it is administered, could affect states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use - and would go against strong public opinion backing federal deference to state rules.
64% of Americans backed marijuana legalization in a recent Gallup poll
A majority of states have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use
Federal law says marijuana is illegal, but a majority of states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing its use for medical reasons. Fewer states have made it legal for recreational purposes, although with California's official legalization of recreational marijuana in the new year, Sessions' move could set up a legal showdown between the federal government and the largest and richest US state.
Eight states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington - plus the District of Columbia-allow recreational sales of marijuana. Another 22 states allow only some form of medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.
Five years ago, recreational marijuana wasn't legal anywhere in the United States.
A broad 64% of Americans say they support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll in October --the highest mark in more than four decades of polling.
The poll shows legalization has support from 72% of Democrats --up from 61% over the last three years - and even a slim majority, 51%, of Republicans - up from just 34% in the same time span.
Medical marijuana, for its part, has nearly universal support in the United States, according to an August poll from Quinnipiac University. An overwhelming 94% of adults - including 96% of independents, 95% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans - support it.
A broad three in four Americans, 75%, say they oppose enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug, according to the same poll. Republicans are most likely to back enforcing federal laws anyway - but that number is still just one in three.
The latest numbers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 44% of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime. A majority, 52%, of people ages 18 to 25 have used it in their lifeline, including 33% in just the last 12 months.
Legal pot has grown to a $6.6 billion industry, with seven in 10 dollars going for medical marijuana and three in 10 going for recreational marijuana. The overall industry has been projected to quadruple over the next decade, according to New Frontier Data, a research company that analyzes the marijuana industry.