The 2013 Cole Memo was a significant step forward for the cannabis industry, providing practical and useful guidelines to keep the federal government from pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized marijuana – guidelines such as harsh penalties for driving under the influence, prohibiting interstate distribution, and establishing a minimum age for marijuana use.
On January 4, 2018, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo. Sessions has long been known as an opponent of marijuana legalization, having spoken out against it on more than one occasion. The rescission was initially met with concern, but many in and outside the industry now recognize that it is unlikely to have much practical impact, and may even hasten legalization on the federal level.
Response to the Attorney General
The Sessions rescission permits prosecutors throughout the country to bring charges for marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession in states that have legalized it.
Prosecutors in marijuana-legal states are likely continue to abide by what is widely regarded as the reasonable and commonsense policy expressed in the Cole Memo. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told CNN: “We have had to confront the Trump Administration for their constitutional overreach, and we are going to protect not just our people but our laws, and the things that have made California the economic engine for the country.” The Colorado Attorney General’s Office also released its own statement, indicating that it intends to continue to focus on “identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats” – meaning violent and other serious crimes, not marijuana. Note that nearly all people serving in federal prison for marijuana-related offenses were charged with trafficking amounts far exceeding individual use.
A bipartisan group of legislators, including Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, denounced the Sessions statement, indicating that they have been working on and plan to pursue legislation that would make marijuana legal at the federal level.
San Francisco Cannabis Law Group
The law firm of Moskowitz, LLP has a group of attorneys and support staff dedicated to assisting cannabusinesses with all their business and tax needs. To learn more, contact our San Francisco office.