The U.S. Attorney for Maine said Tuesday that he can’t declare that his office won’t prosecute marijuana possession, but such cases have not been a priority.

Halsey B. Frank said he has been asked about his approach to enforcing federal laws against marijuana possession and use after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed an Obama administration policy that said the federal government would not pursue those cases in most circumstances. The Obama policy was adopted as more states were making the sale and use of small amounts of marijuana legal for recreational or medical purposes.

In Maine, both medical marijuana and recreational use by adults over 21 is legal, although state officials are still working out the details on how to regulate sales of recreational marijuana. Frank’s statement doesn’t provide much clarity for medical marijuana businesses that are already operating, or for the emerging market for recreational marijuana, which has the potential to be a multimillion dollar industry in Maine.

Frank, in a release sent out Tuesday afternoon, said that growing, distributing and possessing marijuana is illegal under federal law and “my job is to enforce federal law, not countermand it.” Frank also said that while he has some discretion in determining whether to prosecute a case, “I do not have the authority to categorically declare that my office will not prosecute a class of crime or persons.”

In light of Session’s decision, Frank said, his office will operate on a case-by-case basis, balancing the Justice Department’s policies and his office’s resources.

He went on to list the department’s priorities and did not include enforcing marijuana laws among them.

“This office has prioritized the prosecution of cases involving the trafficking of opiates, cocaine, crack and similar hard drugs,” he said. “We have also prosecuted large-scale marijuana distribution organizations and did so even while operating under the recently rescinded DOJ guidance. Prosecution of drug possession cases has not been a priority.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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