"I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold on every street corner. We do know that legalization results in greater use."
While not giving a clear answer about the enforcement of federal prohibition laws in states that have changed their cannabis policies, Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, said, "Federal law remains in effect."
Last week, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made fairly ominous comments about marijuana policy reform, adding that the Trump administration is still deciding whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize cannabis without federal interference.
Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention. Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws.
But in April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration memo and make recommendations for possible changes.
However, that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.
Sessions' new comments came in response to a reporter's question following a San Diego press conference about large-scale Coast Guard seizures of cocaine and heroin.
In contrast to the attorney general's claims about marijuana use rates after prohibition is ended, a study released last week concluded that state legalization does not lead to greater cannabis consumption.