Trump to lift legal threat to states that permit marijuana use

WASHINGTON, April 13 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will lift his administration's plans for a possible crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana after talks with a Colorado senator, the White House said on Friday, an action that undercuts U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Senator Cory Gardner, Trump's fellow Republican whose state has some of the most permissive marijuana laws in the country, had blocked Senate confirmation of Justice Department nominations to force the change.

Sessions on Jan. 4 rescinded a policy begun under Democratic former President Barack Obama that had eased enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that legalized it. In doing so, Sessions, who has taken a hard line against marijuana, gave federal prosecutors wide latitude to pursue criminal charges.

Gardner said on Friday he received a commitment from Trump that the rescission "will not impact Colorado's legal marijuana industry." Gardner said Trump assured him he would support legislation "to fix this states' rights issue once and for all."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders confirmed the president's action.

"We're always consulting Congress about issues, including states' rights, of which the president is a firm believer. And the statement that the senator put out earlier today is accurate," Sanders added.

While more than half of the U.S. states have approved marijuana for medical or recreational use, it is still illegal under federal law.

The president has frequently criticized Sessions, particularly over his decision to recuse himself from oversight of the federal investigation into potential collusion between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

Gardner said he had earlier allowed some Justice Department nominations to proceed after having "positive discussions" with the department, and will now allow the remaining blocked nominations to move forward.

Democratic U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, another state with permissive marijuana laws, expressed skepticism, saying, "Trump changes his mind constantly."

"We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted," Blumenauer, a founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a statement.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump broke with his party and supported giving states the right to set their own policies on marijuana. He then appeared to change his position last year by saying he has a constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute federal laws.

Bob Ferguson, the Democratic attorney general of Washington state, which permits marijuana use, said Gardner's announcement made him "cautiously optimistic" but until there is a formal agreement or law on the issue he stands ready to defend "Washington's well-regulated marijuana industry." (Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham)