Bipartisan Group of Senators Fight Back Against Attorney General Sessions

On February 12, 2018, a bipartisan group of senators wrote a letter (“the Letter”) to Sen. Thad Cochran (R. Mississippi), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D. Vermont) to fight back against Attorney General Sessions’ actions on January 4, 2018 which rescinded the Cole Memorandum.  The Letter supports the regulatory frameworks of the states which have legalized recreational adult use cannabis and argues that General Sessions’ actions would “deny medications to the sick, push individuals back into illicit markets, and nullify the previously-effective regulations – all while thwarting the democratically-expressed will of the states.”  The Letter otherwise strongly supports states with legal cannabis and attacks Attorney General Sessions’ actions against cannabis.

Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Sessions

The goal of the Letter is to convince the Senate Committee on Appropriations to add language to spending bills to prevent federal enforcement of cannabis laws.  This idea follows the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.  This amendment safeguards the medicinal cannabis industry from federal law enforcement.  The Letter seeks to do the same thing for recreational adult use cannabis.  While the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment and the proposed amendment to the spending bill do not re-write the Controlled Substances Act, the effect would be (and is for medicinal cannabis) to render it meaningless by eliminating funding for its enforcement of cannabis laws.

Notably, this is a bipartisan letter.  While the majority of the senators signing it are Democrats (Michael Bennet, D. Colorado; Cory Booker, D. New Jersey; Mazie Hirono, D. Hawaii; Ron Wyden, D. Oregon; Tammy Duckworth; D. Illinois; Kirsten Gillibrand, D. New York; Robert Menendez; D. New Jersey; Heidi Heitkamp, D. North Dakota; Catherine Corez Masto, D. Nevada; Benjamin Cardin, D. Maryland; Maria Cantwell, D. Washington; Kamala Harris, D. California; Elizabeth Warren, D. Massachusetts; Tim Kaine; D. Virginia; and Edward Markey, D. Massachusetts), the Letter still features three Republican senators: Cory Gardner (R. Colorado); Dan Sullivan (R. Alaska); and Rand Paul (R. Kentucky).  It also bears mentioning that Senator Gardener was the most vocal opponent of Attorney General Sessions’ actions against legal cannabis, and has opposed Attorney General Sessions’ attempts to confirm various Department of Justice officials to defend his state’s right to legal cannabis.

While the strategy of circumventing Attorney General Sessions by taking away his funding is in its infancy, the Letter (signed by eighteen (18) senators) represents a major push back by legislators against Attorney General Sessions’ anti-cannabis policies.  This blog will continue to follow this political showdown and will report on major developments.

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.