State announcements on marijuana businesses

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State announcements on marijuana businesses

The January 4th rescission of the 2013 Cole memo by the U.S. Department of Justice, under the leadership of Jeff Sessions, removes an informal federal protection that discouraged federal prosecutors from enforcing federal marijuana laws if states had legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. The 2018 Sessions memo now encourages the enforcement federal laws and prosecution of individuals who are in compliance with their state laws. There are officials in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and several other states that have made statements regarding this change. Those quoted statements and links to official documents are presented below (by state), along with additional information.


Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom tweeted on January 4, 2018: “My full statement on Attorney General Jeff Sessions' harmful and destructive attempt to revive the failed war on drugs. Calling on our federal leaders to move quickly to protect states’ rights from the harmful effects of this ideological temper tantrum by Sessions.” Newsom also issued an official statement.

The California Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, released an official statement noting that he “condemned in the strongest possible terms Attorney General Jeff Sessions decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum. California voters decided to legalize adult use of cannabis in 2016. I stand with the voters of California in defending California's efforts to legalize cannabis.”


The Colorado Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, issued an official statement that noted her responsibility was to defend state laws and that she expected the federal government to “…continue to focus their enforcement efforts and resources on combating the gray and black markets and diversion, and not target marijuana businesses who abide by our state’s laws.”

U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer of the District of Colorado released the following statement: “Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions. The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions—focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state. We will, consistent with the Attorney General’s latest guidance, continue to take this approach in all of our work with our law enforcement partners throughout Colorado.”

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper issued an official statement noting, “Thirty states comprising more than two-thirds of the American people have legalized marijuana in some form. The Cole memo got it right and was foundational in guiding states’ efforts to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana. Colorado has created a comprehensive regulatory system committed to supporting the will of our voters. We constantly evaluate and seek to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement. Our focus will continue to be the public health and public safety of our citizens. We are expanding efforts to eliminate the black market and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and criminals. Today’s decision does not alter the strength of our resolve in those areas, nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities.”


The Governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, released an official statement decrying Sessions’ memo. The Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, also noted, “I am disappointed and troubled by reports that AG Sessions plans to abandon the current federal policy on marijuana—a policy that respects states’ rights and focuses federal enforcement on key, shared areas of concern, Over the past year, Sessions has demonstrated a stunning lack go knowledge about our state’s marijuana laws. If reports are accurate, Sessions is changing policy after refusing multiple requests for a meeting from Governor Jay Insee and myself. I pledge to vigorously defend the will of the voters in Washington state.”


The Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, released an official statement noting that the Sessions memo “roll back federal marijuana policy” and that she was deeply concerned about how the move would impact the state’s economy as more than 19,000 jobs were created the legal cannabis market in Oregon.


Although no official statement was released in Arizona, when asked for a statement on the issue, the acting Arizona U.S. Attorney, Elizabeth Strange, released the following comment: “Our office is committed to the enforcement of federal law and does not have anything to add to the Attorney General's announcement at this time.”


While no official statement was obtained for Alaska, one news report noted that “Alaska’s U.S. Attorney and state marijuana regulators vowed to continue business as usual after Attorney General Jeff Sessions changed the previous administration’s enforcement position.” The report also noted that U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sent a message via Facebook “expressing disappointment with Sessions’ decision.”


Michigan released no official statement, however, the “Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs spokesman David Harns, said the department will continue accepting and granting applications as planned after the state Legislature prompted the department to unveil new regulations following years of uncertainty about what was actually legal.” A spokesperson for the Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, said, “The state’s attorney general’s office gets involved in cases where the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is violated, specifically for large-scale growing operations that violate the current statute.”


U.S. Representative Dina Titus released an official statement on noting that the Sessions memo “undermines Nevada’s $622 million dollar industry, threatens nearly $1 billion in new investments, and jeopardizes thousands of new jobs and more than $60 million dollars in tax revenue for the State.”


U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (Republican) released a statement opposing Sessions’ memo calling it a “cruel plan [that] is repugnant to the Tenth Amendment.” The Congressman also noted that the actions set in place by Sessions’ memo harms vulnerable populations in the state who legally use medicinal marijuana.


Although there was no official statement, the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) in Massachusetts “plans to forge ahead in developing a legal marijuana market in Massachusetts, despite uncertainty generated” by the Sessions memo, according to WBUR News in the state. The WBUR report also noted that Governor Charlie Baker’s office spokesperson said, “The Baker-Polito Administration fully supports the will of the voters and the CCC's mission. The administration believes this is the wrong decision and will review any potential impacts from any policy changes by the local U.S. Attorney's Office.”


There are some additional statements—made via Twitter and other informal mechanisms—by federal and city officials that I obtained in the course of the research that might prove useful.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado (Republican), in response to the Sessions memo, “suggested Sessions had lied ahead of his confirmations” by tweeting “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.”

U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California (Republican) said that the change was Sessions’ “extravagant holiday gift to the drug cartels,” adding that “Sessions has shown a preference for allowing all commerce in marijuana to take place in the black market, which will inevitably bring the spike in violence he mistakenly attributes to marijuana itself…. By taking this benighted minority position, he actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy.”

U.S. Representative Rod Blum of Iowa (Republican) tweeted, “Because of @jeffsessions actions, I’m joining the ‘Respect State Marijuana Laws’ bill. I believe in States' Rights & I’ve seen how cannabis-derived medicines can stop seizures in a child, help a veteran cope with pain, or provide relief to a senior with glaucoma. #IA01.”

U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader and U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California (Democrat) said that "Congress must now take action to ensure that state law is respected and that Americans who legally use marijuana are not subject to federal prosecution."

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (Democrat) said, “Any budget deal Congress considers in the coming days must build on current law to prevent the federal government from intruding in state-legal, voter-supported decisions."

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said in a tweet, "In rescinding the Cole memo, the Attorney General failed to listen to Colorado, and will create unnecessary chaos and confusion.”

U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado (Democrat) said, “This step could drag us back to the days of raids on legal dispensaries and people living in fear of being jailed for using the medical marijuana they need. It could create a chilling effect on an industry that employs thousands of people in Colorado alone, where sales now top $1 billion per year.”

Tallahassee, Florida Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a tweet, “Sessions is dangerously deluded about our drug policy. This isn’t rooted in science or justice—though that’s little surprise since he has compared marijuana to heroin. While people of every walk of life smoke marijuana, the criminal penalties for doing so are far less equal.”


To sum up, many state and federal officials reviewed in this request disapprove of the new Sessions memo that rescinds the 2013 Cole memo. Most officials have a concern for the states’ revenues and public health, as well as enforcement penalties that could likely impact their citizens. Of the 10 states reviewed it was only Arizona and Michigan that provided vague and neutral stances on the Sessions memo; there were no reviewed states that applauded it.