Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eleven Senators write to AG Sessions to urge "that the Cole Memorandum remain in place"

As reported in this Politico article, a "group of senators is pushing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uphold the Obama-era policy of allowing states to implement their recreational marijuana laws, after the Trump administration has indicated it could crack down on marijuana." Here is more about the letter this group sent to AG Sessions and its context:

The effort is led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from states that have legalized marijuana. Press secretary Sean Spicer has hinted at "greater enforcement" of federal laws treating marijuana as an illegal drug. Sessions said this week that he is "dubious about marijuana" and is reviewing current policy.

But senators are beginning to push back. "We respectfully request that you uphold DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational use," the senators wrote to Sessions. "It is critical that states continue to implement these laws."

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of the senators who signed on to the letter hail from those states; Murkowski is the only Republican. The senators who signed the letter in addition to Warren and Murkowski are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

"Do they really respect states' rights? Then you should respect all of them, not just pick and choose the ones that you want to support or not. Many states have gone not only the path of Nevada of recreational marijuana but medical marijuana. How can you pick or choose one or another?" Cortez Masto said in an interview.

Indeed, it's not just a concern for senators from states that have legalized the drug. It's also an issue for conservatives who are worried about the GOP selectively allowing states' rights to supercede federal law. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Sessions told him that he "would have some respect for states' rights on these things." "I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not the intention that my interpretation" of the conversation," Paul said. "We’re concerned about some of the language that we’re hearing. And I think that conservatives who are for states' rights ought to believe in states' rights. I'm going to continue to advocate that the states should be left alone."

In interviews, some Republicans from states with legal marijuana said they were less concerned about Sessions. They said that in his discussions with senators before his confirmation hearing, they were left with the impression that he will respect state laws and not change federal policy. Sen. Cory Gardner (D-Colo.) said that after speaking with administration officials, he believes "nothing at this point has changed."...

In an interview, Murkowski said she was not yet alarmed, but was monitoring the Justice Department closely. "It's probably a little premature to try to predict what may or may not be coming out of the administration on this, so I think we just need to sit back and see," she said.

The full text of the letter that these Senators sent to AG Sessions can be accessed at this link. The quote in the title of this post reflect what serves as the main substantive request in the letter appearing in this closing paragraph:

We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ's existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.   It is critical that states can continue to implement these laws under the framework of the Cole Memorandum.  In addition, we request that state and local elected officials, and public health and safety officials, be afforded an opportunity to comment on any shift in policy from that expressed in the Cole Memorandum, to avoid disruption of existing regulation and enforcement efforts.  We appreciate your immediate attention to this request.

Some recent prior related posts:

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2017/03/eleven-senators-write-to-ag-sessions-to-urge-that-the-cole-memorandum-remain-in-place.html

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