Sessions on Cole Memo: “Much of it is valid”

How you interpret the remarks of the Attorney General depends on your belief in his drug warrior bona fides

Jeff Sessions Cole Valid-min
Jeff Sessions to reporters during Q&A following Richmond, Virginia, speech on March 15, 2017.

As first reported by Tom Angell at MassRoots, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemed favorable to ”some policies” set up under the Cole Memorandum, when asked by a reporter “will you be cracking down on any states that have legalized marijuana, recreational or medical?”

But Sessions was coy about his support of the Cole Memo, only committing to saying “much of [it] I think is valid,” and adding, “I may have some different ideas myself, in addition to that.”

Divining Sessions’ intent regarding the Cole Memo, the Obama Department of Justice directive outlining eight priorities for the federal government to evaluate before expending resources to prosecute state-legal marijuana operations, has divided the marijuana punditocracy*.

There are those who find some solace in his remarks, interpreting his vague comments positively in the context of allowing the status quo of federal hands-off of legal marijuana states to continue unabated.

Then there are those in my camp who interpret his vague comments negatively in the context of knowing he’s an unabashed drug warrior who waxes nostalgically about the “Just Say No” drug war policies of the 1980s.

He did say in his remarks that “we’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that the police and sheriffs have been doing for decades,” echoing previous comments.

  • POSITIVE: You heard Sessions conceding he won’t fight the states that have legalized.
  • NEGATIVE: You heard Sessions only conceding that he can’t commandeer local law enforcement to aid in physical raids in legal marijuana states, so that won’t be the way he cracks down on legal marijuana.

When asked by Hugh Hewitt whether one of the ways he could crack down on legal marijuana would be through a RICO (racketeering) prosecution, Sessions responded that “we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide” but that “I think it’s a little more complicated than one RICO case.”

  • POSITIVE: You heard Sessions dismiss Hewitt’s call for RICO prosecutions as naive.
  • NEGATIVE: You heard Sessions dismiss Hewitt’s naive idea that just one RICO prosecution would be all it takes to crack down on marijuana.

He has in the past called the Cole Memo “valuable” in evaluating whether limited federal resources should be used to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, now saying “much of it is valid.”

  • POSITIVE: You heard Sessions committing to the policy of the status quo of not interfering with legalized states.
  • NEGATIVE: You heard Sessions praising the Cole Memo as an excellent checklist of justifications for interfering with legalized states.

When pressed on whether he would follow the Cole Memo as his predecessors did, Sessions waffled and said he “would never commit to not enforcing federal law.” Today he said that “federal law on marijuana remains in effect in every state.”

  • POSITIVE: You note that every Attorney General has said that and the definition of the job requires him to say that.
  • NEGATIVE: You note the glee with which the current Attorney General says that, weighed in the context of remarks like “good people don’t smoke marijuana.

Jeff Sessions, in numerous appearances, has linked the use of marijuana to crime and violence, saying, “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think… current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

  • POSITIVE: You heard Sessions obviously talking about cartel and gang violence around illegal marijuana, not state-legal marijuana.
  • NEGATIVE: You heard Sessions linking marijuana itself to crime and violence again, like he did when he said “crime does tend to follow drug use,” “this increase in crime… represents the beginning of a trend… the bottom of all that is also the increase in drugs in America.”

I don’t begrudge the people in the positive camp for their views. They may be completely correct that marijuana has become too popular, generates too much tax revenue, creates too many jobs, solves too much unregulated chaos, and represents too big a distraction for an administration hell bent on building walls, banning Muslims, and kicking poor people off health insurance.

That may be true. But for the positive camp to be validated, the status quo of federal non-interference with the proliferation of legal marijuana must continue for the next four years. For the negative camp to be validated, there needs to be only one injunction, one raid, one threatening letter, one RICO prosecution, one extortion (like, say, threatening highway funds if states don’t establish per se THC DUID levels), or any other action from the Department of Justice that impacts state-legal marijuana. Just one.

As Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” Jeff Sessions has shown us many times that he is an unrepentant hard-line drug warrior cannabigot. It’s time everybody starts believing him.


* For clarity – while I opened the piece with reporting from Tom Angell, he’s not among the pundits I refer to in the rest of the post. Of all of us in the marijuana media, he’s probably been the most journalistically objective.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 191 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Russ Belville Show - The Voice of the Marijuana Nation, a two-hour live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on RadicalRuss.com (learn more on our Podcast page).  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 50 North American cities.