In recent years, more and more states have legalized marijuana. A majority of U.S. states now legalize the drug in some form. The move toward legalization has hit an obstacle in the form of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions who changed the passive approach of the federal government to marijuana last week.
Sessions announced he is rescinding the Cole memo, which reflected the Department of Justice’s policy under the Obama administration since August 2013 relating to the enforcement of federal cannabis laws.
The Cole memo was drawn up after voters in Washington State and Colorado backed the legalization of marijuana in 2012.
The document was drafted by James M. Cole, a former US Attorney General. Cole issued a memorandum to all US attorneys on August 29, 2013. It stated prosecutors and police should focus only on the following priorities linked to state-legal cannabis operations:
- Preventing the distribution of cannabis to minors;
- Stopping the revenue from the sale of marijuana from financing criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- Preventing marijuana being trafficked from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- Preventing marijuana activity which is legitimate under state law from being used to cover up the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- Preventing the cultivation and distribution of marijuana where it entails violence and gun crime;
- Enforcing drugged driving laws and preventing marijuana impacting public health;
- Enforcing the cultivation of marijuana on public lands; and,
- Preventing marijuana use and possession on federal property.
On Jan 4, Sessions announced he was rescinding the Cole memo.
The announcement alarmed people who use marijuana as well as enterprises built up around cannabis in states such as Colorado and California where it is legal. Some states like Vermont are expected to follow suit whereas it is legal for medical purposes in states such as Maryland. Texas has not relaxed the law on marijuana use.
Legal experts point out the same disparity between state and federal law that was present before the Cole memo was rescinded still exists. The federal authorities have the same legal authority to crack down on cannabis as previously. All the Cole memo did was to provide guidance on ways to avoid that crackdown.
Sessions’ move may backfire in Congress, reported CNN. The channel noted the landscape related to marijuana has changed dramatically in recent years. Some of the strongest critics of Sessions are senators and representatives from his own party.
CNN noted many prominent Republicans are from states where cannabis programs generate important medicine and tax revenue revenues.
The article speculated Sessions’ announcement may lack teeth. He stopped short of announcing a crackdown on the cannabis businesses. Instead, he left it to the discretion of the local US attorneys to decide how and when to enforce the federal law.
In Texas, drugs charges can carry a severe sanction, even for possession of marijuana. When drug charges are brought at a federal level, the accused faces a potentially long period of incarceration.