Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long loathed the intention and effect of “the Cole memo.” An Obama-era policy established in 2013, the Cole memo has afforded critical protection from federal prosecution for the state-sanctioned consumption, cultivation, and sale of cannabis — safeguarding those legal participants in reformed states from an overzealous federal prosecution.
Repealed and replaced Thursday by Sessions, the policy change effectively modifies our federal government’s hands-off policy adopted under the Obama administration.
As California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada legalized recreational marijuana on the same day Donald J. Trump was elected president, it was an ominous harbinger of things to come for the marijuana industry.
But with a new Department of Justice (DOJ) policy in place, the question remains, what will the Sessions memo actually mean for those states that have reformed their marijuana laws?
Underfunded and understaffed, many view the return to elevated federal enforcement against marijuana-friendly states as being highly unlikely. The DOJ currently lacks sufficient funding and resources to prosecute all the compliant businesses and their customers. And with November 2018 just around the corner, a majority of U.S. Attorneys will likely view any attack against the marijuana industry as nothing short of political suicide.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in October, 61 percent of surveyed Americans believe the “use of marijuana should be legalized.” Categorized by age and political affiliation, the poll indicates a strong approval for legalizing marijuana and a tacit acceptance of the DOJ’s past policy.
In place and offering protection to the industry since 2014, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was extended when President Trump signed a stopgap spending bill in early December – and will remain on the books as a valid federal law until Jan. 19. The amendment maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
In need of renewal, there will likely be negative blowback for any elected official – Republican or Democrat – who attempts to strip the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment from the 2018 federal budget.
In defense of the 10th Amendment, federalism, and Colorado’s voters, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado has publicly stated his office will make absolutely no changes to their current enforcement policy.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-4th District), livid over the announcement, threatened to hold up the nomination process for any DOJ candidates looking for confirmation.
And in California, Congressman Ted Lieu (D-33rd District) suggested Sessions repeal of the Cole memo was nothing more than a “monumental waste of precious federal resources.”
More concerned with advancing a regressive ideology than protecting America’s youth, Sessions’ plan will likely face mounting opposition from elected officials in those states where medical and recreational marijuana laws have been reformed.