A bipartisan group of 54 lawmakers are asking U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to leave state cannabis laws alone. The group of lawmakers, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat of Massachusetts) and Rep. Jared Polis (Democrat of Colorado), sent President Trump a letter urging him to order Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice to reinstate a policy that gives cannabis-legal states leeway to implement their own cannabis policies.
The revocation of the Cole Memorandum
Earlier this month, Sessions has announced his decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum, the policy established during Former President Barack Obama’s administration stipulating that the Justice Department place low priority on prosecuting organizations and businesses that are in compliance with state law. The Cole Memo also orders federal authorities to not stand in the way of legalized states.
Sessions has been vocal about his belief that cannabis is harmful and that there are not enough research proving its medical benefits. He believes that the Cole Memo is unnecessary and therefore ordered federal prosecutors to devote necessary resources to enforce federal cannabis laws.
Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Both had contended that it would infringe on the rights of the individual states.
The lawmakers’ letter to Trump
The lawmakers’ two-page letter focused on President Trump’s campaign promise that he will leave cannabis to the states. It expressed hopes that Trump will hold to this belief and requested that he direct Sessions to reinstate the Cole Memo.
The lawmakers stated that Sessions’ decision will have a “chilling effect” in states that have already passed laws allowing the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. To date, there are nine legalized states – California, Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Vermont – plus the District of Columbia. There are several more states that have legalized medical cannabis.
They also wrote that the Justice Department’s move can potentially unravel efforts to establish sensible drug policies that would promote economic development as the country moves away from practices that are antiquated and that have hurt disadvantaged communities.
Moreover, the letter urged the president to follow the voters’ will and to allow the states to provide responsible cannabis regulations that balance public safety and public health needs with available criminal justice resources.
It also stated that these new cannabis policies have helped eliminate the sale of cannabis in the black market, as well as allow land enforcement to focus on the real threats instead, especially threats on public health and safety.
The REFER Act
Lawmakers who signed the letter include Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Democrat of Oregon), and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California), who are already co-sponsors – along with Rep. Polis – of a current bill that aims to prevent the DOJ from interfering in states’ cannabis laws.
This bill was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (Democrat of California) and is called the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations of Cannabis Act or REFER Act. The REFER Act would create protections for both medical and recreational cannabis by barring the DOJ from using federal funds in the prosecution of cannabis cases in states where it is already legal.
The proposed bill also seeks to prevent federal authorities from detaining, sentencing, or initiating civil proceedings against any person, business, or property involved in the cultivation, possession, distribution, dispensation, or use of cannabis in accordance with regulations or laws put in place by the relevant state or local government unit where the individual or business is located.
Out of the 54 who signed the letter, 51 are Democrats. The other two Republicans were Alaska Rep. Don Young and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Polis and Sen. Cory Gardner (Republican of Colorado) had already sent a similar letter to Trump in the first week of January. Gardner had even threatened to block all of the nominees to the Justice Department posts as a response to Sessions’ decision.