Sessions Takes a Major Step Backwards for Cannabis

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions speaks with reporters after a meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Senate Republican Conference on July 7, 2016. (Alex Brandon/AP)

2018 began with cheers for some in the state of California with the recent cannabis recreational legislation. Three days later, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo. This gateway brought to life under the Obama Administration sought to end the U.S. federal policy of non-interference in states which have legalized cannabis, for those of legal age.

This action taken by Sessions should not be seen as an an immediate urge for panic in our community, nor in the industry as a whole. Essentially, this faux-power move tells federal prosecutors across the country that the DOJ no longer officially opposes them interfering with legal cannabis. This gray area presents a major hurdle and grants attorneys the power and privilege to raid cannabis businesses who are operating legally within state laws.

The undoing the Cole memo opens the door to federal interference with state-legal cannabis programs. Sessions poor judgment on the surface is merely a well-planned illusion; it does not, however, trigger any immediate legal actions.

In the event of any crackdown, the first actions would likely come from individual US attorneys, who oversee federal prosecutions in their respective jurisdictions. Their decisions to act on this would lead to civil or criminal actions against state-legal cannabis businesses (or their landlords) in an effort to shutter the businesses. This shift in policy presents even greater risks to our community; especially with the upcoming midterm elections and other politically and racially driven motivation.

What Is the Cole Memo?

The Cole Memo was a document originally drafted by former US Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013. Cole issued a memorandum to all US attorneys that was published through the Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The memo indicated that prosecutors and law enforcement should focus only on the following priorities related to state-legal cannabis operations:

  • Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  • Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

What Can Be Done?

Call your representatives in Congress! Tell them to support measures that protect states’ rights to regulate cannabis as they see fit. Encourage them to support renewing the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment—and tell them to expand its protections to adult-use cannabis. While federal legalization remains a controversial issue for many politicians to get behind, there’s significant public support for leaving regulation to the states.

Contact information for members of the Senate and House of Representatives is available online.