US Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo January 4, 2018, rescinding an Obama administration policy on state marijuana laws known as the Cole Memo. This rescission cast a shadow of doubt over states that had previously legalized recreational marijuana, as well as those states that legalized medical marijuana.
In 2013 the Department of Justice Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memo that set priorities for how US attorneys should deal with states with legal marijuana laws. The parameters of the memo had been widely accepted by states as rules to comply with to avoid federal interference.
Within the new memo, Sessions reminded US attorneys of the federal laws regarding marijuana, writing, “federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute [must] weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General.”
The memo issued by Sessions has been widely criticized because it directly contradicts President Trump’s campaign pledge to let states decide the matter for themselves. There already have been rumblings around the country. Congress is now in a position where they must consider legalizing marijuana federally.As of February 2, 69 Congressmen and women had written to US House leadership asking them to adopt an amendment within the next year.
Currently there are four bills on the floor of the House of Representatives: The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 (HB 975), The Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (HB 1227), Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (HB 1823), and Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act (HB 1841).
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has already issued a memo regarding the Sessions memo, which states that “if news reports are accurate, today’s forthcoming announcement from Attorney General Sessions is the wrong direction for our state. It is also disrespects Washington voters who have chosen a different path for our state. I am especially frustrated that this announcement comes after Sessions has refused offers from Attorney General Ferguson and myself to meet with him to discuss these policies in person, after he has disregarded the input that we and other state leaders have provided to his department.”
Only hours after Sessions memo became public, Vermont took a step to become the first state to legalize marijuana through the state legislature rather than a public vote. The vote passed by 83–61 and was heavily favored to pass their state senate, with Governor Phil Scott hinting that he would sign the bill into law. Many have regarded Vermont’s move as a major kick to the Sessions memo and a signal of the defiance states will exhibit.
On January 22, Vermont did just that and passed the law to legalize marijuana, with Gov. Phil Scott signing the bill into law after it had passed the Senate the prior week.
Vermont’s move appeared to many as the first slap-to-the-face to the U.S. Attorney General’s memo in a long line of many to come. States are now preparing for the suspected upcoming battle with feds over individual state marijuana laws.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that he, along with the state of Washington, are ready for a fight, stating, “We are just sitting and waiting for the federal government to shutter or seize a state-compliant business.”