U.S. President Donald Trump struck a deal with top Senate Republican Cory Gardner to support the lawmakers’ efforts to protect states that have already legalized cannabis. Trump’s promise to back off cannabis defused a months-long standoff between the administration and the Colorado senator over Department of Justice nominees.
Jeff Sessions memo and Gardner’s nominee blockade
Gardner, in January, vowed to block all DOJ nominations after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to rescind the Cole Memorandum and issued a directive to federal attorneys to enforce federal drug laws at their discretion. The Cole Memo, which Sessions had called “unnecessary,” was a policy put in place during the Obama administration to keep federal authorities from interfering with states that have already voted to legalize cannabis.
By repealing the Cole Memo, Sessions is in effect telling prosecutors they have the freedom to crack down on cannabis even in if it has been legalized under state law.
While most states in the country have legalized medical cannabis and nine have legalized recreational cannabis, the drug is still considered illegal at the federal level. Gardner’s home state of Colorado is one of the cannabis-legal states, having legalized marijuana for medical use in 2000 and for recreational use in 2014.
As a result of Sessions’ move, Gardner held up around 20 DOJ nominees. This is a significant number considering that the White House and Senate Republicans have accused Democrats of slowing down consideration of Trump’s other picks.
Other than Gardner’s nominee holds, the DOJ also has to face a bipartisan pushback from Capitol Hill where cannabis is concerned.
Trump’s commitment to support a legislative solution to the issue
In a statement last week, Gardner said Trump assured him via phone call that Colorado’s cannabis industry will not be targeted. In exchange, the senator decided to back down from his DOJ nominee bloackade.
According to Gardner, since the campaign, Trump has been consistent in expressing support for the states’ rights to independently decide on their cannabis approach. He said that he received a commitment from Trump that the Justice Department’s rescission of the Cole Memo won’t impact the legal cannabis industry in Colorado.
Gardner added that Trump further assured him of his support for a federalism-based legislative solution to once and for all fix the issue regarding states’ rights.
Because of Trump’s commitments, the senator said he has informed the Administration that he will be lifting his remaining holds on the DOJ nominees.
Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director, admitted in an interview that they have been frustrated with the delay concerning a lot of their nominees and that they do feel senators too often hold a nominee in order to bargain a policy solution. This, according to him, was the reason why they were hesitant to “reward this kind of behavior.”
However, he said that they were also anxious to form their team at the DOJ.
A legislative solution
No bill has been finalized yet, but Gardner has quietly been in talks with other senators regarding a legislative solution that would make it clear that the federal government cannot get in the way of states that have legalized cannabis.
According to the senator, he and his colleagues have been working on a bipartisan legislative fix that can pass the House of Congress and then move forward to Trump’s desk so that the president could deliver on his campaign promise.
Businesses are optimistic but wary
According to The Orange County Register, cannabis stocks are surging as supporters of the cannabis industry remain optimistic yet wary after news of Trump’s assurance broke.
The OCR wrote that the news caused an instant bump in cannabis stocks, which went up 8.8% in the final trading hours on Friday.
The uncertainty still remains, though. Nothing much has changed for the industry since the news. For one, major banks still have not decided to open their doors to cannabis businesses.