cole-memo

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization and regulation for his entire career. A few days ago, he acted on his long-held beliefs and made major changes to current U.S. federal marijuana policies. Sessions announced that the “Cole Memo,” an Obama-era policy that limited federal prosecutions of any business or individual who sell cannabis legally at the state level. This unprovoked policy shift mirrors Sessions notorious anti-cannabis bias.

Sessions’ History With Cannabis

Jeff Sessions has been an active opponent of marijuana legalization long-before he was appointed as the head of the U.S. Department of Justice. Sessions once joked that the Ku Klux Klan were “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana,” and has stated that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” At the beginning of his tenure as Attorney General, Sessions sent a letter asking Congress to repeal the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment which prohibits federal money from being used to prosecute individuals in legal medical marijuana states with non-violent marijuana related crimes.

Though that amendment may still make it through budget editing, the onslaught by Sessions against medical marijuana states hasn’t gone unnoticed, and following the most recent end to the policies of the Cole Memo, it is clear that the Sessions DOJ is coming after states where medical marijuana is legal.

What Is the Cole Memo?

The Cole Memo was created by former Attorney General James Cole in 2013 as a response to the recreational legalization of Colorado and Washington in 2012. The memo was drafted with the hopes of diverting federal time, money, and effort away from prosecuting people engaged in state-legal marijuana sales or purchases. Following the issuing of the Cole Memo, federal prosecutors began to take a much more hands-off approach and focused marijuana related prosecutorial effort on individuals engaging in black market activity, selling to minors, and breaking state cannabis laws.

The most well-known exception to the Cole Memo was the Kettle Falls Five case which had all remaining charges dropped this past week. The Kettle Falls Five case was the type of case that would be much more common place had the Cole Memo not been driving federal marijuana policies. Without the Cole Memo, the federal government is able to interfere in state-legal businesses and can prosecute whoever they please. It is feared that the Cole Memo’s repeal will lead to a rise in the number of federal charges levied against businesses and citizens that are adhering to state and local cannabis laws.

What To Expect Moving Forward

The criticism against Attorney General Sessions’ move to end the influence of the Cole Memo has been widespread and scathing. Even some Congressional Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul and Representative Dana Rohrabacher have spoken out against rescinding the Cole Memo, citing the massive tax revenues and job creation numbers that are generated by the booming and young legal cannabis industry. These concerns from many in government and some in Sessions own party will likely make the Attorney General reconsider using massive amounts of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana states, though a complete return to the policies of the Cole Memo is incredibly unlikely.

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