Following Attorney General Sessions’ rescinding of the Cole Memorandum, the most vocal opposition has come from within the Republican Party. Senator Cory Gardner has consistently held up Department of Justice nominees based on his perception that Gen. Sessions reneged on a promise to continue the Obama Administration’s decision not to enforce cannabis laws in states that have legalized.
Recently, Sen. Gardner and President Trump had a private discussion about the cannabis industry and Gen. Sessions. In response, Sen. Gardner dropped his attacks on Department of Justice nominees, noting:
“I have received a commitment from the president that the Department of justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”
While this statement does not offer particulars, two important questions emerge. The first is whether any leniency vis a vis legal cannabis will only be afforded to Colorado – the state with the Republican legislator whose actions were negatively impacting a Republican political agenda – or to all states with legal cannabis (irrespective of the party affiliations of their elected officials). The second focuses on how serious the President (and the Congress) is about a pledge to resolve the discrepancies between state and federal marijuana laws.
Translated, a ‘federalism-based legislative solution’ is one that makes cannabis issues (legality, regulatory, medical, etc.) ones for states to decide. The federal government would effectively bow out of the discussion. That would entail either amending the Controlled Substances Act to remove cannabis as a substance deemed illegal under federal law, or to institute some other legislation or regulation that, while not directly re-writing the Controlled Substances Act, would eliminate its ability to be enforced by the federal government.
Both options would be major boons for the legal cannabis industry. But these discussions are still in their infancy. There have been recent attempts to enact similar federalism based solutions before, but they have not gathered any forward momentum. This blog will continue to follow not only New Jersey’s efforts to legalize cannabis, but analogous federal debates and issues.