On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Sessions unveiled a new policy that effectively rescinds the Cole Memorandum, which set forth the Obama Administration’s position that the federal government would not generally not enforce cannabis laws in states where it is legal. This is an about-face from General Sessions’ recent testimony where he suggested he would maintain the Obama Administration’s position. General Sessions’ new policy comes at a time where support for legalization has never been higher, as a recent Gallup poll suggested 64% of Americans favor legalization. Unlike the Cole Memorandum, which discouraged enforcement of cannabis laws, Gen. Sessions’ policy allows US Attorneys to exercise their own judgment as to whether to enforce cannabis laws.
Clearly, General Sessions’ announcement has the potential to have a major impact on the legal cannabis industry. His new policy, though, has already started a political battle. Cory Gardner, the Republican Senator from Colorado, immediately took to Twitter to oppose General Sessions’ action, arguing that cannabis policy should be a states’ rights issue. Sen. Gardner stated that he was “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.” Presumably, the commitment Sen. Gardner spoke of was adherence to the Cole Memorandum.
As Sen. Gardner demonstrated, opposition to General Sessions’ policy may not be strictly partisan, and Sen. Gardner may not be General Sessions’ only Republican adversary in this brewing political battle. Alaska legalized recreational cannabis, and its Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, are both Republicans. Nevada legalized recreational cannabis, and Sen. Dean Heller is a Republican. Maine legalized recreational cannabis, and Sen. Susan Collins is a Republican. Sen. Murkowski said in a statement that she repeatedly discouraged Gen. Sessions from taking this action and asked him to work with states and Congress. The remaining Senators have not yet announced their position on General Sessions’ new policy.
We will closely follow this development and update this blog with information about what may amount to a fierce political showdown.
Alex concentrates his practice on business litigation and counseling. Alex is the author of the New Jersey Cannabis Counsel blog where he tracks and analyzes developments in New Jersey’s efforts to legalize recreational cannabis and the potential impact on cannabis businesses in New Jersey. Alex is also a member of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association.