UPDATE: U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer of Colorado's District has now responded to the new guidance on marijuana enforcement. He released this vague statement:
Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions — focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state. We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.
What we still don't know is whether Troyer, who replaced former U.S. Attorney John Walsh in August 2016 and was then officially appointed by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November, believes, like Sessions apparently does, that the use, possession and distribution of marijuana represents one of "the greatest safety threats to our communities."
——ORIGINAL POST: 11:08 A.M. THURS. JAN. 4——
After about a year of wondering “will he or won’t he?” it appears the answer is: “He will.”
As of Jan. 4, multiple news outlets reported that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to rescind an important Obama era drug enforcement policy known as the Cole Memo. The Cole Memo
, named for then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole, was issued in 2013, after voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It was meant to address the conflict with federal law, which still holds that marijuana is a Schedule I substance (meaning, highly addictive with no medical benefit).
Sent to federal prosecutors in the relevant states, the memo set out guidance for their prosecution of marijuana-related crimes. "The [Department of Justice is] committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent and rational way," it stated. Therefore, the DOJ would expect state and local authorities to police health and safety issues through a robust regulatory system while it would reserve its own resources for priority cases like sale to minors, interstate diversion and gang activity.
The Cole Memo created an environment that let state regulators, cannabis businesses and consumers feel comfortable partaking of the state-legalized substance, knowing that if they basically followed the rules, they had nothing to worry about. It encouraged investment and growth. In Colorado, the recreational side of the industry brings in over a billion dollars in sales annually, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue for schools, law enforcement and addiction treatment.
That environment is about to change. It doesn't necessarily mean that federal agents are about to swoop into the six states that have legalized, wiping everything out and sending everyone to prison. But it does mean renewed uncertainty about the status of legalized weed.
Here's Sessions' new memo, via Politico
See related PDF
We've put in a call to the U.S. Attorney's office in Colorado to see how its attorneys are thinking of the policy change and will report back when we hear something.
In the meantime, industry players, advocates and elected officials are responding.
The Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, a group that advocates for patients, posted a statement saying they're prepared to "stand up" to Sessions.
Sal Pace, the Democratic County Commissioner from Pueblo said this in a statement: "A reversal of the sovereign voice of the American public is an assault on the intellect of Americans, an assault on the fundamental tenants of democracy, and an attack on the Constitutional guarantee of states’ rights."
Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner put this statement out:
Reports that the Justice Department will rescind their current policy on legal marijuana enforcement are extremely alarming. Before I voted to confirm Attorney General Sessions, he assured me that marijuana would not be a priority for this Administration. Today’s action directly contradicts what I was told, and I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation. In 2016, President Trump said marijuana legalization should be left up to the states and I agree.
Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, on Twitter, wrote: "In rescinding the Cole memo, the Attorney General failed to listen to Colorado, and will create unnecessary chaos and confusion."