The United States Department of Justice is rescinding a policy that had eased the enforcement of federal cannabis laws in states where the drug has already been legalized. Revoking this policy, which was put into place by the Obama administration, puts the cannabis market and the entire cannabis legalization movement in the country in jeopardy.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is a vocal opponent of cannabis legalization, will instead allow federal prosecutors to have a free hand as to how aggressively they would enforce federal cannabis laws in legalized states.
It is the Justice Department’s mission to enforce the country’s laws and the previously issued guidelines undermine the rule of law. The previous policy was unnecessary. Federal laws reflect the determination of Congress that cannabis is a dangerous drug and cannabis activity is a serious crime. – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The Cole Memorandum
The policy, which is formally called the Cole Memorandum, is a directive issued by the Obama administration stipulating that the Department of Justice place low priority on the enforcement of cannabis laws against organizations and businesses that comply with state law. It also stipulates that federal authorities would not stand in the way of legalized states so long as state officials prevent cannabis from migrating to areas where it remained prohibited and so long as they keep it out of reach of children and criminal gangs.
The Cole Memorandum was issued in 2013 after voters in Washington State and Colorado elected to decriminalize recreational cannabis and the Justice Department deliberated on how they should handle the dissonance between federal and state law. Ultimately, federal prosecutors were directed not to make most cannabis-related prosecutions in legalized states a priority.
Sessions decided to allow U.S. attorneys across the country to devote whatever federal resources they deem necessary to enforce federal cannabis laws based on the priorities of their respective districts.
This means that prosecutors can go after the cannabis market when there is a clash between state and federal drug laws.
In a statement, Sessions said that it is the Justice Department’s “mission to enforce the country’s laws” and the previously issued guidelines “undermines the rule of law.” He also said in his memo to U.S. attorneys that the previous policy was “unnecessary,” while noting that federal laws “reflect the determination of Congress that cannabis is a dangerous drug and cannabis activity is a serious crime.”
Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo comes days after California officially legalized recreational cannabis and saw the opening of dozens of licensed cannabis shops in several cities.
The attorney general’s decision was quickly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
The move of the Justice Department merely gives prosecutors the tools they need to enforce the law and take on large-scale distributors. President Trump’s position has not changed but he just strongly believes that federal law must be enforced. – White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Legal cannabis market is threatened
The Justice Department’s decision puts state legal cannabis businesses, including large-scale cannabis growers, processors, distributors and retailers, at risk of getting targeted by federal authorities.
Justice Department Officials are mum about whether they will be carrying out a crackdown and start prosecuting commercial growers and other cannabis businesses, or will merely try to slow down growth.
However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured that President Donald Trump wasn’t going back on a promise during his campaign that he would refrain from taking advantage of federal authority to shut down recreational cannabis sales in legalized states.
Sanders said that the move of the Justice Department merely gives prosecutors the tools they need to enforce the law and take on large-scale distributors. She further stated that President Trump’s position has not changed but just strongly believes that federal law must be enforced.