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Sessions’ new marijuana policy

Bipartisan opposition to New Rules

On Jan. 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that kept legal marijuana sellers from being arrested by federal authorities if states chose to legalize. This decision came days after California’s new recreational legalization law went into effect. What Rep. Sessions did was change the federal policy from the hands-off, state-level approach that the Obama administration had, allowing federal prosecutors across the country to decide individually how to prioritize resources to crack down on pot possession, distribution, and cultivation of pot where it has been legalized in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Steban Lopez

Called the “Cole Memo,” it was originally sent out to federal prosecutors in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama. It said that the federal prosecutors wouldn’t crack down on the states that had legalized marijuana. Jeff Sessions is completely rescinding this memo.

Many in Colorado have come out against this decision. For example, Republican Rep. of Colorado Cory Gardner said in a statement, “I am obligated to the people of Colorado to take all steps necessary to protect the state of Colorado and their rights.” He had also said that he had been previously promised by Jeff Sessions and the administration that rolling back on marijuana laws would not be their main focus. Gardner threatened to withhold support for Justice Department nominees until Sessions had gotten rid of the law.

Furthermore, Gardner said in a statement on the Senate floor, “Attorney General Sessions needs to read the Commerce Clause found in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the US Constitution that limits the power of the federal government to regulate interstate and not intrastate commerce.”

In July 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump said to 9News, “I think it’s up to the states. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”

The Colorado US Attorney Bob Troyer said, “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.”

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis said, “It is absurd that Attorney General Sessions has broken Trump’s campaign promise and is now waging war on legal marijuana and states’ rights. The growing Colorado economy is in jeopardy with the news that the Attorney General will now go after states that have decided to regulate marijuana. The Trump Administration needs to back off.”

Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California said, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision bulldozes over the will of the American people and insults the democratic process, under which majorities of voters in California and in states across the nation supported decriminalization at the ballot box. Yet again, Republicans expose their utter hypocrisy in paying lip service to states’ rights while trampling over laws they personally dislike.”

Currently, it is unclear how Sessions’ decision will affect the pot markets in Colorado and California. The politicians in both states are standing strong to resist the current administration and its decision to rescind the Cole Memo. 

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