Breaking News: Jeff Sessions Expected to Rescind Obama-Era “Cole Memo” That Allowed States to Implement Marijuana Laws Without Federal Interference

medical marijuana
A medical cannabis patient’s supply of medicine in their home. Source: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance Statement: This is Bad News For Civil and Human Rights – and Bad Politics for Team Trump

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 4, 2018

By: Tony Newman and Tommy McDonald

Developing Story

The AP reported this morning that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans today to rescind Obama-era guidance by the Department of Justice allowing states to implement their own marijuana laws with limited federal interference.

The 2013 “Cole Memorandum” gave states a tentative green light to move forward with marijuana legalization, while preserving the ability to prosecute in certain circumstances. In practice, it meant that states could feel relatively confident about moving forward with legalization, without federal intrusion.

“Jeff Sessions’ obsession with marijuana prohibition defies logic, threatens successful state-level reforms, and flies in the face of widespread public support for legalization,” said Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s now time for Congress to put the brakes on Sessions’ destructive agenda by limiting the Justice Department’s ability to undermine states’ decision making.”

More than 60 percent of Americans support making marijuana use legal, eight states have legalized marijuana outright, and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana.

There is bipartisan support for states setting their own marijuana laws. Since 2014, the US Congress has approved each year an amendment to stop the Justice Department from intervening in medical marijuana states. And in 2015 the (Republican-controlled) House came close to passing an amendment to stop the Justice Dept. from intervening in states that have legalized marijuana more broadly.  A number of prominent Republican and Democratic governors and senators have sent letters to Jeff Sessions requesting that the Justice Department respect states’ rights on this issue. President Donald Trump has in the past also said he thought this issue should be left to the states.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill modeled on California’s Proposition 64 that ends federal marijuana prohibition and centers on communities most devastated by the war on drugs.

Drug possession is the single most arrested offense in the US, and marijuana represents by far the largest share of those arrests. Arrests, incarceration, and deportation for marijuana offenses have disproportionately affected Black and Brown people, even though whites use drugs at the same rates. The consequences of these harsh policies have been devastating for millions of individuals, their families, and communities.

By shifting away from counterproductive marijuana arrests and focusing instead on public health, states that have legalized marijuana are diminishing many of the worst harms of the war on drugs, while managing to raise substantial new revenues. A Drug Policy Alliance report found that states that legally regulate marijuana have benefitted from a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as increased tax revenues.  At the same time, these states did not experience increases in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities.

The reports about Sessions’ plans come on the heels of the implementation of California’s groundbreaking marijuana legalization law, which legalized the adult use of marijuana and enacted across-the-board retroactive sentencing reform for marijuana offenses, while establishing a comprehensive, strictly-controlled system to tax and regulate businesses to produce and distribute marijuana in a legal market. Its cutting edge provisions to undo the most egregious harms of marijuana prohibition on impacted communities of color and the environment, as well as its sensible approaches to public health, youth protection, licensing and revenue allocation, set a new gold standard for marijuana legalization.

“Rescinding the Cole memo is not just an attack on sensible marijuana polices — it’s an attack on civil and human rights,” added McFarland.   “Police have long relied on the suspicion of minor marijuana offenses to profile, harass, arrest and even lock up massive numbers of people, especially in communities of color.  We can’t stand by and let the drug war be used as a tool to harm vulnerable communities or to deport and destroy families.”

Related Article:

Associated Press

US to end policy that let legal pot flourish, By: Sadie Gurman, January 4, 2018

https://www.apnews.com/19f6bfec15a74733b40eaf0ff9162bfa

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors where pot is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the people said.

The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday.

The move by President Donald Trump’s attorney general likely will add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where pot is legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it. It comes days after pot shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world’s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.

While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to pot policy reflect his own concerns. Trump’s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Pot advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.

The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.

The pot business has since become a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and California’s sales alone are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.

Sessions’ policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts, the people familiar with the decision said.

Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers that have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for pot opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.

“There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it’s also the beginning of the story and not the end,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. “This is a victory. It’s going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years.”

Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states’ rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses.

Marijuana advocates quickly condemned Sessions’ move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.

Sessions “wants to maintain a system that has led to tremendous injustice … and that has wasted federal resources on a huge scale,” said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If Sessions thinks that makes sense in terms of prosecutorial priorities, he is in a very bizarre ideological state, or a deeply problematic one.”

A task force Sessions convened to study pot policy made no recommendations for upending the legal industry but instead encouraged Justice Department officials to keep reviewing the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement, something Sessions promised to do since he took office.

The change also reflects yet another way in which Sessions, who served as a federal prosecutor at the height of the drug war in Mobile, Alabama, has reversed Obama-era criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced. While his Democratic predecessor Eric Holder told federal prosecutors to avoid seeking long mandatory minimum sentences when charging certain lower level drug offenders, for example, Sessions issued an order demanding the opposite, telling them to pursue the most serious charges possible against most suspects.

Source: www.drugpolicy.org