Sessions’ reversal of U.S. marijuana policy was a complete surprise for federal officials. These officials who deal with banks said they received no advance warning.
The U.S. Justice Departement failed to notify federal officials who advise banks in states, where marijuana is legal, following its abrupt reversal on its pot policy, sources in Congress told Reuters on Thursday.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time hardliner against marijuana, annulled an Obama-era policy, which allowed no federal intervention in states that have legalized cannabis.
But now the federal government has far more clout and say in these states after Sessions rescinding the policy.
Flood of Phone Calls
The removal of the policy has created confusion and uncertainty for both the U.S. government and its citizens. Reuters reported the uncertainty unleashed a flood of phone calls to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an office within the U.S. Treasury Department. Congressional offices bombarded the network with questions from lawmakers and constituents.
But FinCEN had no ready answers because it received no advance warning of Sessions’ Jan. 4th announcement rescinding the Obama-era policy, said congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to Reuters.
Meanwhile, a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment about whether it had coordinated with FinCEN in advance.
About 400 banks and credit unions do business with the U.S. marijuana industry. Most are small institutions with operations limited to states where marijuana has been legalized. The marijuana business in the U.S. is estimated to be around $7 billion.
Critics said the Justice Department’s decision, which gives prosecutors wide latitude to pursue criminal charges, could drive banks out of the cannabis industry.
In spite of Sessions, Vermont on Wednesday became the ninth state to allow the legal possession of marijuana. Sessions’ decision also came after California on Jan. 1 became the largest state in the United States to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Dozens of other U.S. states also allow the medical use of cannabis.
Not the First Time for Trump Administration
This is not the first time, the Trump administration abruptly blindsided its own government agencies on major policy shifts. In 2017 the administration shocked the Defense Department with a decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military.
The Department of Homeland Security had also surprised many by banning people from some predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.