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Is the Justice Dept. about to crack down on marijuana possession?

The presidential Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is scheduled to release a report this week. Criminal justice reformers fear it will signal a major crackdown on marijuana -- even in states where it is legal.

In May, Sessions sent a memo to the component heads of the Department of Justice saying that he expects initial recommendations by July 27. That memo listed three areas he wanted to consider in order to ensure they met the department's overall strategy on reducing violent crime: charging, sentencing and marijuana.

Also in May, Sessions asked Congress to do away with an amendment to the Justice Department's budget which keeps it from taking steps to prevent states from "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana." He urged Congress not to restrict its prosecutions "in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime."

Yet the Justice Department's own Bureau of Justice Statistics said in October that the violent crime rate plummeted between 2013 and 2015 (the latest year available) and has been dropping overall since 1993.

According to a Brennan Center criminal justice reformer, Sessions and other officials on the task force have been explicitly saying that marijuana and immigration lead to increasing violent crime. "We're worried there's going to be something in the recommendations that is either saying that that's true," he told The Hill, "or recommending action be taken based on that being true."

Marijuana not a predictor of violent crime, say critics

"That's not the drug with which we see so much death and destruction on the streets of America," says a former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department and co-chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

More than half of U.S. states have legalized marijuana for at least some purposes. Eight states, including Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have legalized it for adult recreational use.

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