When embattled U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III announced earlier this year that the Justice Department was rescinding the Obama-era Cole Memorandum, effectively ending any pretense of protection for individuals who were operating in the cannabis industry under their own state’s laws, it hardly made a blip on the media radar for a couple of reasons.
First of all his boss, Trump, sucks all of the air out of the room every day when it comes to media coverage, so Session’s ill-informed decision could not compete with the Twitterer-in-Chief and whatever rant he was on that particular day.
Secondly, those in the cannabis industry are used to being jerked around by the Feds – no matter what state laws are in place and no matter what party is in office. So most legit cannabis businesses, even those operating in some shade of legal gray area in states from coast to coast, hardly batted an eye when yet another cranky old politician in Washington D.C. railed against the perceived evils of marijuana.
But some states have started to fold under increasing pressure from the nation’s capital.
This has been the case since medical marijuana, and eventually, recreational marijuana made it to the mainstream in America but the question has always been – if the states uphold the will of their voters, how can the Feds possibly afford to police pot at the state level?
Americans for Safe Access released a study in mid-2013 which revealed that the Obama-era Justice Department was spending upwards of $180,000 EVERY DAY to combat medical marijuana in the early adopting states. Overall the administration had tallied up over $300 million in enforcement costs with nothing more than some kicked in doors and relatively low-level busts to show for it.
It’s unknown how influential their findings may have been, but just two months later, on August 29th, 2013 the infamous Cole Memo was published by the Department of Justice and issued to all U.S. Attorneys General.
The memo announced that the federal government was going to take a laissez-faire, or hands-off, approach to marijuana, and instead, allow the states to do their own oversight.
That no-mans-land between state rights and federal laws still landed too many people in prison, but federal cannabis prosecutions had fallen off considerably post-Cole Memo.
Then Trump came to town and brought his bouncy little buddy Beauregard with him who likes to compare cannabis to heroin and is on record saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana”.
Think that’s batshit crazy? Try this Sessions stupidity on for size…
“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”
You know what used to be life-wrecking before Sessions was assigned as the top lawyer in the land? Lying under oath in a Senate Confirmation Hearing…but, we digress…
Still not fired up about this guy’s hatred for the plant we love? When asked for his thoughts on the KKK – the Ku Klux Klan for fuck’s sake – Sessions said he thought they were alright, until he found out they smoked pot.
What a dick… and one of his first dick moves as Attorney General was to appoint a group of prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials that he gleefully named his Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. They, he thought, would give him the ammo he would need to start really cracking down on the reefer nationwide.
Instead, their final report advised Sessions to back off and let the experiment that we call democracy play its course in the states.
Still, Sessions essentially shredded the Cole Memo at the beginning of 2018 and all eyes have been on the states to see how, if at all, they would react.
Those pieces have begun to move as 700+ cease-and-desist letters were sent out in California by the Bureau of Cannabis Control warning unlicensed retailers of the consequences of their failure to comply with the state’s new laws.
According to the BCC, over 150 of those notified made immediate changes to their business structure to either close up shop or begin the licensing process towards compliance. Batting .220 won’t make you an all-star ion baseball but those are probably god enough results to encourage the agency to continue the enforcement-by-mail.
Just to the north in Oregon, ultra-Conservative U.S. Attorney General Billy Williams announced this past Friday that federal prosecutors in the state would begin to target the “illicit marijuana market, organized crime, outlaw grows and operations that pose a substantial risk of violence” according to OregonLive.com
Williams – who is also staunchly anti-immigration like his boss, Sessions – is on record saying that he believes that Oregon has a major “overproduction and diversion” problem.
He is also said to have told the state’s more progressive governor that “lawful Oregon businesses remain stakeholders in this conversation and not targets of law enforcement.” But, leaning hard on the dichotomy between federal and state laws on weed, he has also said that “I will not make broad proclamations of blanket immunity from prosecution to those who violate federal law.”
Which is it, Billy?
This ambiguity on the interpretation of decades of hard-fought cannabis law reform is putting the power back in the hands of those who have always opposed this movement
– and not by accident. Even steadfast liberal states are starting to bend under the thumb of an overstepping federal government as the pro-cannabis movement is being splintered into self-defeating factions of “medical vs. recreational” or “licensed vs. gray/black market”.
Sessions is desperate but only time will tell if this unpopular gambit will finally give him a victory for his ass-backwards agenda.