Mail To The Chief

By Benjie Cooper

IG: @nuglifenews

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Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo earlier this month created a new wave of resistance across the legal cannabis states, as well as in the ones considering possible legislation to allow citizens to produce and consume marijuana. The bold move by the Attorney General spurred widespread vocal opposition from people in the cannabis industry, consumers, and politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.

But while getting rid of the Cole Memo didn’t remove any real protections for legal states, and Sessions’ new memo didn’t grant his department any additional powers or resources, it did direct U.S. Attorneys to change the way they look at legalized cannabis.

“This memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, and appropriations,” the new memo states, “it is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable law by any part in any matter civil or criminal.”

Jeff Sessions’ new memo

And in light of the Justice Department’s limited resources, the memo instructs U.S. Attorneys to use discretion and consider “the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community” when deciding which cases to prosecute.

Regardless, removing the Cole Memo garnered strong vocal opposition in Washington D.C. immediately.

In a speech on the Senate floor on January 4, Cory Gardner (R-CO) spoke of a discussion he had had with Jeff Sessions where the then-Senator assured him that legal marijuana was not on his agenda for prosecution.

Outraged, Gardner told the Senate, “With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in Colorado and other states. Trump had it right; this must be left up to the states.”

Gardner’s sentiment was echoed by other elected officials like Alaska Governor Bill Walker who said in a statement that he is dedicated to upholding the will of the voters and would be working with a congressional delegation and the Justice Department to prevent federal overreach.

In addition to the vocal opposition that Jeff Sessions’ move prompted, federal legalization bills from 2017 gained new sponsors since the memo switch, and legislators began working on new measures to put an end to the era of cannabis prohibition in the United States.

In the meantime, Jared Polis (D-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are petitioning Donald Trump to shift the Justice Department’s focus away from cannabis and reinstate the Cole Memo. The two senators penned, signed, and sent a letter bearing the signatures of fifty-two other bipartisan lawmakers to the President on January 25, expressing concern over the repercussions of the Attorney General’s new memo.

Sen. Jared Polis

They note that the sensible, responsible state laws are voter-approved, and have been “carefully reviewed and thoughtfully implemented in communities across the country.” They continue by stating that rescinding the Cole Memo disrupted the balance that had been achieved between state and federal regarding marijuana enforcement.

“This action has the potential to unravel efforts to build sensible drug policies that encourage economic development as we are finally moving away from antiquated practices that have hurt disadvantaged communities,” the letter states. “These new policies have instead helped eliminate the black market sale of marijuana and allowed law enforcement to focus on real threats to public health and safety.”

In the letter’s closing, the senators include quotes from Trump that he made during his campaign; “I really believe we should leave [marijuana] up to the states,” and “it’s got to be a state decision.”

They end the letter by stating that they hope that the president still holds the same belief and to reinstate the Cole Memo, urging him to “appreciate the critical nature of this issue and take immediate action.”

But those sentiments may resonate with the president as there have reportedly been arguments over marijuana policy between Trump and Sessions. According to The Joint Blog, an anonymous source reports that there is a stark difference in opinion between the two regarding how to handle legalized marijuana on a federal level.

“Sessions and Trump have been heard arguing in the halls on several occasions, with Sessions enraged that Trump wants to ‘ignore federal law’ when it comes to marijuana,” according to the source, “Trump thinks it’s bad politics. He wants the feds to look the other way.”

Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo with the intention of returning the Justice Department’s attention to stricter enforcement of federal marijuana policy. But with the amount of pro-cannabis action that his actions have prompted in Congress, he may unwittingly turn out to be the hammer that helps drive the final nails into the coffin of cannabis prohibition in the United States.