By Michael Bachara
Earlier this morning, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to rescind Obama-era guidance, aka the Cole Memo, which has generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
The Obama Justice Department deputy attorney general, who authored it in 2013, set out certain criteria that would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention, if followed. The focus of the memo was interstate trafficking and abuse.
This past April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo. Sessions, a vocal critic of marijuana legalization, has hinted for months that he would move to crack down on the growing cannabis market.
Last May, Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting they get rid of an amendment in the department’s budget that blocks the Justice Department from using federal money to prevent states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The move, which is likely to put the federal government in conflict with states where cannabis is legal for recreational use, has the emerging cannabis market entrepreneurs questioning what will happen next.
Chris Walsh, Vice President of Marijuana Business Daily and leading industry analyst, said of the breaking news surrounding Jeff Sessions and changes to Cole Memo, “This isn’t a surprise, as Jeff Sessions has been outspoken with his antiquated, out-of-touch views on cannabis for quite some time now. Tearing up the Cole Memo is clearly a move to rewind the clock on marijuana, which will prove extremely difficult to do. This industry generates about $6 billion in annual retail sales, is the lifeblood of several hundred thousand workers, consists of tens of thousands of responsible companies, filters hundreds of millions of dollars annually into state coffers, and has the support of the majority of the U.S. population. It will fight back.”
“While dismantling the industry will prove impossible, the move by Sessions will sow more seeds of uncertainty in an industry that already has its fair share of risks and unknowns. Businesses could be in for a bumpy ride amid this uncertainty, and we certainly could see some types of regional crackdowns or delays in upcoming medical or recreational cannabis markets. This appears to be the Trump Administration’s MO: lob a bomb, step back and watch all the chaos unfold,” continued Walsh.
Paul Stanford, the director of Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp, said of the DOJ announcement, “Though the Trump Administration and Jeff Sessions announced that they will retract the Cole memorandum, and that would devolve prosecutorial authority to the local US Attorney’s offices in each state, it’s unlikely that the US Attorney in Oregon, or any of the other 7 states where adult use cannabis is legal, would attempt to prosecute people who are abiding by state licenses. If the federal government did attempt to prosecute people who are abiding by a state-issued license, no jury would convict them. I’ve been acquitted by a federal jury for marijuana here in Oregon back in 1993. Oregon jurors will not convict anyone who is abiding by their Oregon State marijuana license. The US Attorney’s office is very unlikely to pursue people who have state-issued marijuana permits unless they are violating that license by selling cannabis illegally.”
Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director, said of the DOJ decision, “The American people will not just sit idly by while he upends all the progress that has been made in dialing back the mass incarceration fueled by marijuana arrests and destabilizes an industry that is now responsible for over 150,000 jobs. Ending our disgraceful war on marijuana is the will of the people and the Trump Administration can expect severe backlash for opposing it.”
Sessions’ plan also drew immediate strong objection from Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who’s state legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2012.
Gardner said in a tweet that the Justice Department “has trampled on the will of the voters” in Colorado and other states. He said the action would contradict what Sessions had told him before the attorney general was confirmed and that he was prepared “to take all steps necessary” to fight the step including holding up the confirmation of Justice Department nominees.
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