aNewDomain— US Attorney General Jeff Sessions today rescinded the Cole Memorandum, a US policy on which most of the multi-billion dollar legal cannabis industry is built.
“There’s no more safe harbor,” Sessions told reporters earlier today. “There is no more safe harbor (regarding) marijuana sales that are federally illegal,” Sessions told reporters a few hours ago.
The 2013 policy has broadly allowed states legalize and regulate cannabis sale and use for their own citizens despite the fact that marijuana is still classified a Schedule I drug, the nation’s most illegal and dangerous classification.
Sessions’ new policy explicitly directs federal law enforcement agencies to use their discretion to prosecute cannabis growers, buyers and sellers as they see fit, state laws not withstanding.
“In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources,” the statement reads, “prosecutors should treat cannabis growing, use and sale the same way they do with other federal crimes.”
Even so, it is as yet unclear how the new US policy will impact the exploding legal cannabis business in the 29 US states that now allow it in some form.
Also unclear is how it might impact the medical marijuana business, which has enjoyed some additional protection by way of the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment to a 2014 omnibus spending bill. That amendment prohibits federal law enforcement agents from interfering with medical cannabis use and sales in states that permit it.
Speaking to reporters this morning, Justice officials wouldn’t or couldn’t say whether they’d go after medical cannabis suppliers, growers and users under the Trump administration’s new policy.
Not as advertised?
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage at the new US cannabis policy.
“This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation,” tweeted Sen. Cory Booker D-NJ.
“With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in (Colorado) and other states,” Booker said in another tweet. “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including withholding DOJ nominees, until the attorney general lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.”
US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released this right after news of Sessions’ Cole memo reversal hit:
“Alaskans are waking up to reports that the US Department of Justice is withdrawing the Cole Memorandum, an Obama era policy statement that the federal government will respect state marijuana laws like Alaska’s My office can confirm we received notifications this morning that they intended to withdraw the “Cole Memorandum.”
“Over the past year I repeatedly discouraged Attorney General Sessions from taking this action and asked that he work with the states and congress if he feels changes are necessary,” Murkowski said, adding that “today’s announcement is disruptive to state regulatory engines.’
“So far all we have is three paragraphs on a piece of paper from the US AG,” added Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman in a hastily called press conference. “But I’m going to make a leap and tell you I believe we will continue as a state to exert core rights as a sovereign state — and to control what happens within our borders with regard to marijuana regulation and enforcement.”
She also called for Congress to review and change the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which put cannabis in the same category with heroin, cocaine and speed.
“Unless Congress changes the Controlled Substances Act and loosens the controls on marijuana,” she added, Sessions probably “will go back to enforcing federal law in the way he sees fit,” she said, adding:
“Sessions’ memo also has given his US attorneys at the state level the ability to decide their own priorities. That is very significant for Colorado,” she said. It signals that Colorado “can make decisions about its own priorities.”
“Citizens of the state of Colorado made it clear that this is what they wanted the law in Colorado to be, Coffman added. “And I don’t see that changing.”
Sessions’ move to rescind government protection of the legal cannabis business arrives just four days after California began selling recreational weed the first time. Analyst expect that state to to become the world’s single largest weed market in short order.
If the current rate of growth continues, the overall cannabis market could hit 25 billion by 2025.
“The rollback of this policy towards state legalized marijuana will only create chaos and confusion for an industry that is currently responsible for creating over 150,000 American jobs and generating countless millions in state tax revenue,” said NORML executive director Erik Altieri in a statement today, adding:
“This instability will only push consumer dollars away from these state sanctioned businesses and back into the hands of criminal elements. With more than 60 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, supporting marijuana legalization, this is not just bad policy, but awful politics and the Trump Administration should brace itself for the public backlash it will no doubt generate.”
One of the strongest comments around Sessions’ rescinding of the Cole memo came from Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), who today delivered this prepared statement:
The attorney general of the United States has just delivered an extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels. By attacking the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly favor marijuana legalization, Jeff Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself. He is doing the bidding of an out-of-date law enforcement establishment that wants to wage a perpetual weed war and seize private citizens’ property in order to finance its backward ambitions.
This is a profound misreading of the Constitution, which allows states, not the heavy-handed federal government, to determine such issues.
How ironic that the attorney general has long championed states’ rights when it suits other parts of his agenda! More than that, by attacking the clear will of the American people, the attorney general contradicts President Trump’s campaign pledges to leave medical and recreational marijuana questions for the states to decide. By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy …
And here’s the memo Session’s office released today about the reversal.
Here’s Jeff Sessions before Congress last year, including his now notorious comment that “marijuana smokers aren’t good people.”