Donald Trump’s cannabis policy has been an enigma with many mixed messages as patients, advocates and industry participants have tried to determine how his administration would treat various state medical and recreational marijuana laws across the nation. While candidate Trump seemed to support medical marijuana and a states’ rights approach to full legalization, there have certainly been some discouraging signs recently.
It was very troubling to see Attorney General Jeff Sessions plea to Congress for funding that would allow the Trump Justice Department to prosecute and imprison patients and providers following their own states’ laws. While Sessions was preoccupied answering questions about Russia’s meddling with our democracy and the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein seemed to indicate that the Trump Administration’s policy is to enforce federal law.
NORML released a press release responding to Rosenstein’s comments:
NORML Statement on Dept. AG Rod Rosenstein Addressing Marijuana Policy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Department of Justice’s Rod Rosenstein remarking on
marijuana policy during his testimony to Congress, Justin Strekal, Political Director for NORML stated:
“Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is implying that the DOJ under Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration is pursuing a path to undermine legal state medical marijuana programs. With 30 states choosing to put patients first by allowing those suffering to make their healthcare decisions under the supervision of their doctors, it is absurd that this administration would make such veiled threats. Last time I checked, neither Rosenstein, Sessions, nor President Trump are doctors and their zeal to threaten those who are sick is disturbing.”
During his testimony, Rosenstein stated, “We do have a conflict between federal law and the law in some states. It’s a difficult issue for parents like me, who have to provide guidance to our kids… I’ve talked to Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the DEA and we follow the law and the science. And from a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug. It’s properly scheduled under Schedule I. And therefore we have this conflict.”
His conclusion: “We’re responsible for enforcing the law. It’s illegal, and that is the federal policy with regards to marijuana.”
The Cole Memo, a Justice Department memorandum, authored by US Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 to US attorneys in all 50 states directs prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.
During a Q and A with reporters in Richmond, VA in March, Jeff Sessions said ”The Cole Memorandum set up some policies under President Obama’s Department of Justice about how cases should be selected in those states and what would be appropriate for federal prosecution, much of which I think is valid,”
But while the Justice Department contemplates its next move, state politicians are taking action. Recently, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) issued a letter to the new U.S. Attorney General and to Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin calling on them to uphold the Obama Administration’s largely ‘hands off’ policies toward marijuana legalization, as outlined in the Cole Memo.
“Overhauling the Cole Memo is sure to produce unintended and harmful consequences,” the governors wrote. “Changes that hurt the regulated market would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”
“Given that AG Sessions has recently reiterated that the Cole Memo is valid, Rod Rosenstein would be wise to maintain the current interpretation and not interfere with the right of states to set and enforce their own marijuana policies,” concluded Justin Strekal, Political Director of NORML.
Attorney General Sessions has chosen a task force to review federal marijuana policy and it has been reported that federal officials sought reassurances from Oregon officials recently regarding its compliance of the Obama-era Cole Memo that allowed state marijuana laws to proceed free from federal interference. While we wait for any possible new policy out of the Sessions Justice Department, it is paramount that advocates remain vigilant and keep making their voices heard.