Written by: Bill Cox 1/16/2018
No sooner did Jeff Sessions attempt to derail the cannabis industry than he inadvertently lit a fire under it. By rescinding the Cole Memo on January 4th, 2018 he essentially gave authority to US attorneys to prosecute State legal recreational cannabis operations. Medical marijuana would remain safe under the protection of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment which disallows federal funds from being used to circumvent State legal medical marijuana operations. The Cole Memo protected the recreational side of the industry.
However, Session’s action drew broad criticism from Congressmen and women across the board. In fact, there was virtually zero support for Session’s action, with the exception of Steve Alford. He is a Kansas State Representative who’s comments at a Garden City Town Hall meeting supporting prohibition were overtly racist, which led to him resigning a few days later. Alford said at the forum, “One of the reasons why [marijuana was made illegal], I hate to say it, was that the African-Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that.” While it’s true racism played a key role in cannabis being made illegal nearly a century ago, it’s hard to find anyone brazen enough to still champion for such reasoning today.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats responded to Session’s action with outrage. Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican in Colorado tweeted, “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.” He went on to threaten to withhold DOJ nominees until Sessions reversed his action.
The firestorm Sessions set off with his action speaks volumes to where the industry is today. Public support is so strong that it has become political suicide to be overtly anti-cannabis in the vast majority of States. Even in States where cannabis remains illegal, it has very strong support. For this reason, there is somewhere near 0% chance of any action being physically taken against ANY State legal cannabis operation. Considering the backlash of merely provoking States with the threat of a Federal crackdown, imagine if it actually occurred.
Is it really feasible to go in and shut down State legal operations who are paying taxes, and throw owners (and employees) in prison who have paid fees to the State to operate legally? The backlash would probably put Sessions out of the job within 24 hours, and the victim(s) would likely be hailed as martyrs and National heroes., so on second thought… Go ahead and DO SOMETHING Mr. Sessions!
But I digress, there will almost certainly be no physical action by Sessions, or we would have seen it by now. The real action is beginning to take shape in Congress as some 69 Congress members sign on to add recreational protections to the Spending Bill amendment protecting State’s rights for cannabis, which has up until this point only protected medical marijuana operations. By merely omitting the word “medical”, the amendment is essentially upgraded to include any State legal cannabis operation medical or otherwise. If this does indeed make it onto the Spending Bill it will be a major short term catalyst for the US cannabis industry.
It is worthy to note that it seems the longer-term Spending Bill vote will be delayed until February and instead we will get yet another short-term Bill to prevent a government shut-down. This is not overly concerning and should give more time for Congressional leaders to get these needed protections on the Bill.
The Spending Bill is merely a short-term fix, the more exciting news is Federal Legislation to essentially give States rights with regard to cannabis law on a Federal level.
As reported by Janet Burns, contributor at Forbes, “Last week, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a house resolution aimed “to protect states and individuals in states that have laws which permit the use of cannabis, and for other purposes,” entitled the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations of Cannabis Act or REFER Act for short.
Cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Jared Polis (D-CO), HR 4779 would create protections for both medical and recreational cannabis by barring federal funding for any efforts by the justice department to interfere in states’ laws when imposing its own.