Today, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would be rescinding the Obama-era “Cole memo,” a measure which helped to limit prosecutions of businesses and individuals who sold marijuana in a legal manner under state law.
"Given the Department's well-established general principles, previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement is unnecessary and is rescinded, effective immediately," Sessions said in announcing the move.
The announcement was met with immediate push-back, including statements of opposition from Republicans, such as Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, who said, "This reported action directly contradicts what Attorney General Sessions told me prior to his confirmation. With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in CO and other states. I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation."
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, also a Republican, echoed Gardner’s concerns, saying, “Over the past year I repeatedly discouraged Attorney General Sessions from taking this action and asked that he work with the states and Congress if he feels changes are necessary. Today's announcement is disruptive to state regulatory regimes and regrettable."
While the immediate response within Sessions’ own party was lukewarm, some organizations saw the decision as a positive one.
Nate Catura, National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the decision will “allow U.S. Attorneys to decide what federal resources should be utilized towards marijuana enforcement and prosecution. U.S. Attorneys are uniquely qualified to appropriately address drug enforcement issues that are specific to their districts.” Catura added, “Until Congress sees fit to make marijuana legal, the Attorney General and law enforcement have an obligation to enforce current law. Given these factors, this type of direction and support from the Attorney General is appreciated and will ensure national consistency on this matter.”
Politico noted that the plan is likely to inject confusion into the national debate surrounding marijuana decriminalization and legalization, writing that it is “not immediately clear how the Justice Department's new approach would be affected by a budget rider that prohibits the use of federal money to interfere with state-authorized medical marijuana use. A 2016 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted that amendment to bar federal prosecutors in Western states from proceeding with criminal cases against medical marijuana sellers complying with state law.”