Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department set to rescind policy protecting states that legalize marijuana
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to rescind an Obama-era policy on Thursday that was used as a protection for states that have legalized marijuana.
The move could be a major blow to the growth and future of the burgeoning cannabis industry, which just this week officially gained its biggest state ally as California began the sale for recreational adult recreational use of marijuana.
Sessions and his department are doing away with what is known as the Cole Memo. Written under Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder’s office, the roughly four-page document outlined how the federal government would enforce marijuana laws, stating that the federal government would not interfere with states that legalize recreational and/or medical marijuana, as long as they adhere to a set of guidelines.
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Despite growing acceptance of legal marijuana, the drug is still illegal at the federal level and is labeled a Schedule I substance, alongside heroin and LSD.
“This should not come as a surprise,” said Rafael Lemaitre, former associate director for public affairs for the Drug Policy Office under President Obama.
Sessions has been a staunch opponent of marijuana long before taking up his current office. The former U.S. senator from Alabama once said, as CNN and others have reported, he thought KKK members were OK until he learned that they smoked marijuana. He later said that had been a joke.
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“We don’t know how this might play out legally,” Lemaitre said. “But this will create a significant chilling effect on investors who had hoped to cash in on a new ‘green rush.’ Before Trump, you would have to just be risk [tolerant] to put money behind the marijuana industry; now you’d have to be downright crazy.
“Despite public polling showing its popularity, the cards are stacked against a successful long-term business model here.”
The Department of Justice was expected to give a press briefing at 11 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.
Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado (arguably the epicenter of the legal-marijuana trend), said the reported move by the Justice Department would stand in direct contrast to what Sessions had said prior to being confirmed as attorney general:
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.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) January 4, 2018
In a separate tweet, Gardner said he would “take all steps necessary,” including placing a hold on DOJ nominees, until Sessions leads up to that commitment.