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Cannabis Leaders Weigh in on AG Sessions’ Decision to Rescind Cole Memo

On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he’s rescinding a number of Obama-era memos written by David Ogden and James Cole. The 2013 the Cole Memo discouraged federal prosecutors from enforcing the prohibition laws in states that have legalized marijuana, as long as cannabis businesses in those states followed guidelines to prevent diversion to other states, underage use and other concerns.

In a Department of Justice memo on marijuana-law enforcement, Sessions reminded all federal prosecutors that cannabis is prohibited because of Congress’ “determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime,» adding that «previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately.

“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.”

With California having begun legal sales of cannabis on Jan. 1, this is clearly a shot at the growing legal marijuana industry.

Here’s what a number of major cannabis-legalization advocates and industry players are saying about the announcement:

Maria-McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director, Drug Policy Alliance: “Sessions has been making a lot of noise about marijuana for a long time, so it’s consistent with that. I think, politically, he’s making a huge mistake, and I had hoped that he would have had more sense than to go up against such massive public support for marijuana legalization, but clearly his ideology has won out. If Sessions does rescind the Cole memo, it’s up to Congress to act quickly to limit Department of Justice’s authority to act against states that have legalized marijuana, as they did with the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.»

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR): “This is outrageous. Going against the majority of Americans—including a majority of Republican voters—who want the federal government to stay out of the way is perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the Attorney General has made. One wonders if Trump was consulted—it is Jeff Sessions, after all—because this would violate his campaign promise not to interfere with state marijuana laws. It’s time for anyone who cares about this issue to mobilize and push back strongly against this decision.”

Erik Altieri, executive director, NORML: “By rescinding the Cole Memo, Jeff Sessions is acting on his warped desire to return America to the failed beliefs of the ‘Just Say No’ and Reefer Madness eras. This action flies in the face of sensible public policy and broad public opinion. The American people overwhelmingly support the legalization of marijuana and oppose federal intervention in state marijuana laws by an even wider margin. This move by the Attorney General will prove not just to be a disaster from a policy perspective, but from a political one. 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.”

Aaron Smith, executive director, National Cannabis Industry Association: “This news from the Department of Justice is disturbing, especially in light of the fact that 73% of voters oppose federal interference with state cannabis laws. But, the rescinding of this memo does not necessarily mean that any major change in enforcement policy is on the horizon. This has been, and still will be, a matter of prosecutorial discretion. We therefore hope that Department of Justice officials, including U.S. Attorneys, will continue to uphold President Trump’s campaign promise to not interfere with state cannabis programs.”

Matthew Schweich, interim executive director, Marijuana Policy Project: “This extremely misguided action will enable a federal crackdown on states’ rights with regard to marijuana policy… A majority of Americans support legalization, and Attorney General Sessions has simply decided to ignore their views. In the states where marijuana is legal, voters approved those legalization policies at the ballot box. This is a direct attack on the will of the people. This decision may very well lead to federal agents raiding licensed, regulated and tax-paying businesses that are employing thousands of Americans and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue… MPP will be pushing Congress to pass legislation this year that establishes marijuana policy as a states’ rights issue and prevents federal interference.”

Brian Vicente, founding partner, Vicente Sederberg LLC in Denver: “The regulated marijuana market is steadily replacing the criminal market, while also creating tens of thousands of jobs and pumping hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue into state economies. It would be incredibly counterproductive for the federal government to roll back this progress and hand the marijuana industry back over to cartels and criminals. States like Colorado and Washington have demonstrated that regulating marijuana works. Officials in these states are doing more than ever before to control marijuana, and it would behoove federal authorities to work with them and not against them.”

David Rheins, executive director, Marijuana Business Association“End this failed policy and join the majority of Americans on both sides of the political spectrum who recognize it’s time to move beyond the failed policies of America’s War on Drugs.”

Diane Russell, former Maine representative and gubernatorial candidate: «The decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to roll back the progress that has been made is antithetical to science, common sense and the State of Maine’s right under the 10th Amendment to self-governance. The people of Maine saw through the prohibition propaganda and voted for a more rational policy in the most direct form of democracy available—the ballot initiative. When politicians override the choices of the people, they risk an insurrection. If elected governor, make no mistake, the state’s law enforcement resources would not be used to aid and abet the Attorney General in his archaic and irrational crusade against common sense.»

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