In early January Jeff Sessions rocked the cannabis world when he rescinded Obama-era guidance which provided some protections for states that have legalized marijuana for adult use. The Cole memo, as it’s known, instructed federal prosecutors to refrain from prosecuting anyone that was in compliance with state legalization laws. Cannabis advocates had feared it would happen ever since Jeff Sessions was appointed United States Attorney General by Donald Trump.
Ever since the rescinding of the memo the cannabis community has been on high alert, with many wondering if a crackdown on state-legal is coming. To be fair, the rescinding of the Cole memo does not automatically mean that a crackdown is coming, rather, it lets federal prosecutors do so if they choose to do so. Federal prosecutors across the country have given mixed messages as to what they may or may not do.
A lot of posturing has gone on since the rescinding of the memo, with many federal prohibition supporters claiming that the only people that need to worry are those that are out of compliance with state laws. However, people that were operating outside of state laws were not covered by the Cole memo, and what those people are/were doing has always been illegal and there has been nothing preventing federal prosecutors from going after them.
With that in mind, it doesn’t seem to be a leap to think that the rescinding of the memo occurred to lay the groundwork for at least some crackdowns on state-compliant businesses. Otherwise, why rescind the memo at all? Yesterday 11 Democrats sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte urging him to hold a hearing to discuss the recent move by Jeff Sessions. The sending of the letter was first reported by Vice. The full text of the letter can be found below, via the article by Vice:
Dear Chairman Goodlatte:
We are deeply concerned by the recent action by Attorney General Sessions rescinding Department of Justice (DOJ) marijuana enforcement guidance issued during the Obama Administration. We write to request a hearing of the full Judiciary Committee regarding this decision.
On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Sessions issued a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys eliminating marijuana enforcement priorities set forth under President Obama. Previous memoranda issued during the Obama Administration, such as the memorandum issued in 2013 by then Deputy Attorney General James Cole (Cole Memo), made clear the considerations the federal government should use when deciding to prosecute violations of the Controlled Substances Act related to marijuana. Rather than targeting individuals in states that had legalized marijuana and consequently set up complex regulatory systems, the government focused on priorities that were significant to the federal government. These included preventing gangs and cartels from profiting from marijuana sales and ensuring that state-authorized marijuana was not used to hide other illegal activities.
We fear that the elimination of the Obama Administration’s marijuana enforcement guidance will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states. Further, the January 4 memorandum by Attorney General Sessions fails to provide any evidence that prosecuting marijuana in states where it has been legalized will make Americans safer. DOJ should instead pursue enforcement strategies that are sensible, effective, and enhance public safety, and the Judiciary Committee should be included in these discussions.
The Judiciary Committee has a fundamental duty to conduct oversight on the Department of Justice. It is critical that the members of our committee have an opportunity to ask questions about this recent rescission in a formal setting and evaluate potential legislation related to marijuana. Therefore, we respectfully request a hearing by the full Committee on these issues.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler
Rep. Ted Lieu
Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee
Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Rep. Steve Cohen
Rep. David Cicilline
Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Rep. Jamie Raskin
Rep. Eric Swalwell
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries
Rep. Hank Johnson