Dear Pot Lawyer,
I read some promising stuff on federal weed action. Is Attorney General Jeff Sessions finally throwing in the towel?
I hope so. Sessions made an interesting comment on weed last week to the House Judiciary Committee. The comment didn’t get the press it should have, because the big story that day was Sessions’ “clarifying testimony” as to what he claims he knew or didn’t know, or maybe forgot, about Russia contacts during campaign season. Sessions did, however, get a few sundry questions that afternoon about the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) federal pot law policy. Surprisingly, he stated that current DOJ policy is the same as Obama’s DOJ. That policy, of course, is generally not to enforce federal law.
The reason this statement was surprising, of course, is because Sessions had previously taken quite a few steps to beat back states’ progress on cannabis. Specifically, Sessions has done the following since becoming our attorney general: asked Congress for money to prosecute medical marijuana operators (and received zero dollars); commissioned a task force on weed enforcement recommendations (and was told to “stand pat”); tried to keep the “stand pat” recommendation secret (but failed); wrote to a number of state governors with “serious questions” about their state cannabis programs (and got zinged in reply); refused to meet with any of the governors he had questioned (or even acknowledge their excellent reply letters); held secret meetings about cannabis policy with state and local officials in Colorado (which everyone found out about); and, in a variety of speeches and pronouncements, disseminated bogus weed statistics far and wide. Sessions has been busy!
Fortunately for pot businesses, and despite his efforts, Sessions has covered little ground. He seems to be running on a hamster wheel. And maybe he’s getting tired. Sessions’ statement last week was probably not what he wanted to say, but simply an acknowledgment of what is realistic. Today, weed enforcement polls terribly across demographics, including among conservatives. Attempting to shutter state-licensed pot businesses and chase down medical cardholders would be politically preposterous. Almost no one wants to pay for that.
To be clear, the Obama-era guidelines referenced by Sessions last week were issued in the good old days of 2013, and are commonly known as the “Cole Memorandum.” This memo offers a series of enforcement priorities to state attorneys general, and basically tells them to leave states alone if they are regulating cannabis responsibly, which states intend to do. At this point, the Cole Memo feels like an ancient, bygone document, and most industry watchers are surprised it is still valid. To that end, I remember waving the memo in front of a class of law school students last January, when Sessions was nominated, and telling them it would be rescinded by summer. Here we are in November.
Finally, I should also mention that Sessions conceded in last week’s hearing that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin. Somewhere, Chris Christie shed a tear.
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