Today the federal government unfortunately took a step in the wrong direction regarding their policy on legal marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo established by the previous Obama administration.
The Cole Memo outlined the priorities that prosecutors and law enforcement should have when dealing with state with legal marijuana. Most of these provisions primarily addressed illegal activity such as selling to minors, driving under the influence, and illegal trafficking.
A Return to Prohibition
Not only is this announcement unexpected, but it feels like a slap in the face to the marijuana industry which has worked diligently to legitimize legal cannabis. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued this statement earlier today,
"It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission. Therefore, today's memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country."
It is very apparent in this statement, that the federal government’s philosophy has returned to a prohibition stance. Marijuana cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers immediately expressed concerned fearing raids from the DEA, even though they have gone to extreme lengths to operate well within state and local law.
Since the news broke earlier this morning, both Republican and Democratic Senators have expressed their disappointment in the new memorandum. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado took to the Senate floor to address this unwarranted decision and called out Attorney General Jeff Sessions for going back on his word.
It didn’t take long for Nevada Senator Dean Heller to make his opinion known:
“Knowing Attorney General Sessions’ deference to states’ rights, I strongly encourage the DOJ to meet with Governor Sandoval and Attorney General Laxalt to discuss the implications of federal marijuana enforcement policy. I also urge the DOJ to work with the congressional delegations from states like Nevada that have legalized marijuana as they review and navigate the new policy.”
State representatives are taking a bold stand to protect the will of their citizens and many vowed to continue business as usual. Even Colorado’s Attorney General Cynthia Coffman urged retailers and consumers to not “freak out” noting that she would be willing to put up a fight if the Department of Justice attempted to prosecute businesses who are in compliance with Colorado laws.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is committed to protecting the interests of California just days after recreational use was legalized. Similar remarks were made by Washington state’s Governor, as the cannabis community continue to unite to oppose the new memo. Congress could weigh in on the matter in the days to come as many, including Senator Elizabeth Warren is suggesting the Cole Memo be reinstated.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have poked the bear that is the marijuana industry and will certainly feel a lashback for this hastily made decision. As for now, virtually all states with legal medical or recreational marijuana have promised to protect the rights of the voters, distributors, and retailers. Business will continue as usual, but if federal law enforcement intervenes, it could add gas to already raging fire.